Tagged: reviews

Cowboys Vs. Indians, A Review of Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner

To be honest, this is just a review of the first hour of the first episode. I cannot find the motivation to finish even that one, but rest assured, you can watch everything to date here.

You have to give props to Kevin Costner and all the other thespians who still believe in playing Cowboys and Indians at this late stage in the game. Unfortunately, while they certainly delight in donning the definitive costumes, they fail to remain faithful to the fanciful, if not now forbidden, fun of times past.

I recently picked up Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea with the intent of reading it. At the back of the edition I hold is a review of the book by my current beau author, Robert Louis Stevenson, that includes an assessment of Verne which is perhaps best summarized in the Scotsman’s own stinging words, “Of human nature, it is certain he knows nothing.”

The same can be said for Yellowstone’s team. Simply put, there is no hate. The fact is there must be hate (deteste for you Verne loving Frenchies) for these types of stories to work. Fighting over land isn’t enough. The cowboys must loathe the savages, and the savages must truly believe their tomahawks can stop a six-shooter. Put another way, I must be convinced that the cowboys actually believe the blood flowing through the red-man’s veins is an aberration of nature, and that it is their duty to cure the human race through genocide. The land must be secondary. It may be seen as the reward for such a virtuous act, but land itself as goal is too abstract, as grounded as it is, to make for good television.

The audience must learn, alongside the cowboy, to not hate these primitives.

Only if there is hate–then and only then–have they told our story. And our story? That’s one worth watching.

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Review of This Is America, by Childish Gambino (Using One Scene from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The 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 The 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.”

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.

My Way

Nearly three years ago I applied for and was accepted into a 78-credit hour Masters of Divinity in Theology program. I later attempted to reduce my workload and transferred into the more reasonable 50-credit hour Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies degree. I am now out of quarters, as they say, and have decided to cut my losses. I will leave with the 24-credit hour Graduate Certificate in Biblical and Theological Studies to show for my efforts. I have 56 credit hours total, but stubbornly and, I believe, biblically, I refused to complete the required thesis and thus forego the actual graduate degree.

24 of the other 32 hours I passed were in ancient languages. When it comes to scholarship, I prefer word study to anything else. How precisely do words work? Answering that is endlessly fascinating to me.

Anyhow.

I confess that I would have loved to see future bio’s read, “Pete earned his Master’s of Divinity…” or hear, “…Pete comes to us having earned his Master’s…” But I had to do things my way. The truth is that I think the theological and biblical higher education degrees are the paper equivalent of bullshit. There. I said it.

First of all, any title that can generically cover studies in several religions are misleading from the beginning. Divinity? Who’s soul has divinity saved? You know the answer is, “No one’s,” and you don’t have a degree in Divinity. Amazing!

Secondly, the Bible is full of very intelligible words. Words like mountain, rock, rain, serpent, turn, and blood. Unity is another one. By my thinking, if we are not in unity as Christians, it often means we’re simply off topic. Let’s admit it. For Christians, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only topic. See for yourself if you doubt me. In any case, talk about it. Reconciling evolution with creation is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you enjoy engaging in that type of mental gymnastic and know others who do too, by all means talk about it. If you lose friends over it, don’t talk about it; skip it like you would a difficult crossword puzzle. Keep the unity.

Thirdly, if I ran a seminary today, to accurately communicate to the fallen world what I was doing, I would confer to graduates only one degree: a Masters of Power. And I definitely would not recommend anyone enroll at my school. Can you imagine someone claiming to have earned a degree in power? And how could power be taught by books? What a joke he’d be. My first question to the new man-of-letters would be, “Which power, exactly? The wind? Heat? Speed? Darkness? Light? Forgiveness? Love? Make an actual claim, man!”

As it is, “Masters of Divinity” or “MA in Theology” plays only on a bygone era’s final unbroken string and merely reassures church-goers that they don’t need to read their Bible for themselves. Divinity and Theology are so general that their teaching solely requires that the institution’s curriculum be limited to trending positive ideas. But the Masters of Power degree, my way, would necessarily demand further specification. And instead of reassuring church-goers that they’re not being duped by some hack with a Bible, it would be an excellent metric by which to measure the preacher. Is he preaching that there’s power in some book? Power in some culture? Power in guilt and remorse? Or is he preaching that there is power in the Blood of Jesus? Power in the Word of God? Power in repentance? Power in holiness? Surely we all possess the mental faculties to discern the difference between these things.

Here me clearly: Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He holds all power. The adversary, the great serpent of old is defeated. This is good news. If someone let’s you know they disagree with this, thank them for their honesty and then pray that the Holy Spirit uses you to reveal Christ to them. When answering questions (they will have them) stick to Scripture and the spirit of Scripture. Think of yourself as the translator. You know their vocabulary and you know the Word of God. Be the friend they need. Feed them. In doing so, you’ll help them see the good news that they are already free.

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 Philosophy of Law and Jurisprudence (Part of The Great Ideas Program [Itself a guided reading of The Great Books of the Western World]) by Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff

“When your old-ass parent is like, ‘I don’t know how to send an iMessage,’ and you’re just like, ‘Give me the fucking phone and let me handle it.’ Sadly, that’s what we have to do with our government; our parents don’t know how to use a fucking democracy, so we have to.” – David Hogg, Survivor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas schooting

Thank you, young man. I want to thank you for two reasons. First, thank you for delighting me. Second, thank you for saving me time.

Regarding delight: ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I love analogies. (Maybe you will understand me better if I write, “I ♥ analogies.” #celebrateilliteracy #icantreedorrite.) I love them because they somehow make communication crystal clear.

Regarding time: because you used an analogy, I do not have to ask clarifying questions to get at the heart of what you want to say. In other words, you have made my duty simpler. So, again, thank you for saving me time.

The analogy you provided is perfectly coherent, and undeniably clear. But do not think for a moment that through it you have demonstrated that you know up from down. I’ll grant that you are an expert at pressing “send”. Against my instincts, I’ll even grant that you are an expert at using a democracy. I will not, however, grant that you can see the truth.

The truth is that democracy is not something that is used, it is something that is built. More clearly, democracy is not the hammer, it is the house.

****

Philosophy of Law and JurisprudenceThe preface to Philosophy of Law and Jurisprudence includes two true accounts of people stranded at sea after shipwrecks. Inevitably decisions must be made as to who should get to live at least a little bit longer. And, yes, cannibalism is sometimes the best option.

Against this backdrop, the authors present Western Civilization’s history of thought about the “law”. The book isn’t very long at all. Though, I will admit that to the likes of David Hogg and friends, compared to 140 characters, the work may seem unending. To old-ass parents, however, the ability to coherently, if not comprehensively, paint the broad-strokes of the past 2500 years’ discussion of Western thought as related to the law seems a pretty incomparable feat.

Beginning with Aeschylus, we are presented with the law as found in the infamous Greek tragedies as captured in fictions surrounding the Trojan War. In short, revenge is shown for what it is–unending. The only solution to the eternal problem is given in the institution of the court, the law.

Plato, in turn, takes the law and states that it has the purpose of promoting virtue, through persuasion and coercion.

Aristotle answers the new question which arises from Plato’s idea, which is, “What is this thing that men should be persuaded and coerced to be?” In short, after delineating natural law (killing is bad) from man-made law (speeding is bad), Aristotle offers that the man-made law must be for the common good and be properly made.

The Old and New Testaments are treated next, under the question, “Why is there any need for divine law?”

We next return to Aristotle and Plutarch, to include Solon, and see outlined the three functions of the law. The law must be made, enforced, and applied. Here we see the makings of our own three branches of government, the legislative, executive, and judicial.

Aquinas seems to be one of the first to notice that up until his time none of his predecessors really even didactically defined the term in question, that being, the law.

  • Plato, for example gets close but misses when he writes, “…there is one among these cords which every man ought to grasp and never let go, but to pull with it against all the rest; and this is the sacred and golden cord of reason, called by us the common law of the State.”
  • Aristotle, for his part, says, “law has compulsive power, while it is at the same time a rule proceeding from a sort of practical wisdom and reason.”
  • The emperor Justinian wrote, “Whatsoever pleases the sovereign has the force of the law.”

Finally, we read Aquinas’ definition, being, “[law] is nothing other than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.”

Aquinas is also the author from which we find the complicated but enlightening idea that an unjust law is an impossibility, instead it is merely a counterfeit law.

Hobbes is the man responsible for creating the notion that the commonwealth, the group, should be thought of as a new being–which he calls the Leviathan. In his system, there are essentially three commands/points. First, right to life is the only inalienable right. Second, to achieve life, one must give up all rights and liberties (with the assumption that all others follow suit) and third, men must perform the covenants that they make. The tricky part of Hobbes is that there is no law without the Leviathan. And the Leviathan cannot be against itself. Put another way, for Hobbes it is irrelevant that I think a law unreasonable.

Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice receives the next chapter’s attention because of the covenant involving one character’s willingness to underwrite his debt with “a pound of flesh.” In other words, Shakespeare brings out that mindless obedience to covenants may not be best.

Montesquieu takes up the law with the phrase, “the Spirit of Laws,” as he promotes the notion Shakespeare observed, that is that there does not seem to be one hard and fast law. Specifically he advocates that the particular and distinct circumstances–especially the climate wherein the particular culture (or Leviathan if you will) exists–must be taken into account as the law is created, enforced, and applied.

Rousseau adds to the discussion by providing the sound reasoning that the law sets men free. Rousseau is also one of the first to argue that the law, as it sets us free, is primarily concerned with protection of property as property is the freedom most easily taken away.

Kant, while approaching the law from the perspective opposite Montesquieu (science), picks up the property notion and explains that to even say that we have a right to property requires a second person. And therein he defends the importance of property ownership as a measure of the law.

Next we view the American Constitution through the eyes of its inadequate predecessor, the Articles of Confederation. This will always be a worthy exercise.

Hegel then exposes the significance of understanding there is most assuredly a difference between the history of laws and the philosophy of law. He wrote, “A particular law may be shown to be wholly grounded in and consistent with the circumstances and existing legally established institutions, and yet it may be wrong and irrational in its essential character.” He is also responsible for spreading the notion that the philosophical task (in this case, answering either, “What is the law?” or “What is right?”) has not begun until the ideas are actualized.

Finally, the book ends with discussion of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. This is due to the final courtroom melodrama which is about as morally difficult as anything yet written and demonstrates that the question, “What is the law?” has not yet been conclusively answered.

Despite our current predicament, this little history lesson may be enough to demonstrate that the American system was very well thought out–not by grieving, angry teenagers but by parents who could tell the difference between hammer and house.

****

But you already knew that, Mr. Hogg, didn’t you?

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.