Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah, the Zealot you've decided to see the movie Noah. You should know some things from the get go.

First this is not Noah the biblical story, but Noah the story inspired by the biblical story.  Shortly before the movie's release, the trailer had this statement added by Paramount after several in the religious community objected to the non-literal adaptation of the biblical story: "The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."  I would point out that the movie has a little less than three short Bible chapters to work with. I would also point out that many touted biblical movies also use "artistic license."  The Ten Commandments, for example is one.

Second, if you are going to go because of the ad that announces that "If you liked Gladiator and Titanic, you'll love Noah," you should know that I have no idea why anyone would say this.  It has the guy from Gladiator in it.  There is a big boat, an ocean and a love story like in Titanic.  This pretty much ends that similarity.

Third you need to be prepared for some pretty intense moments, some pretty ridiculous ones, and some that are more than just a little strange. I must admit that during the opening sequence I was wondering what I had let myself in for, but it did finally settle into something that was more visually stimulating.  You also need to be prepared for a movie that seemed to me to be longer than it is.  Two hours and twenty minutes is longer than most movies, but it is still shorter than quite a few movies, like anything by Peter Jackson and of course The Ten Commandments, and Ben Hur.

I will let scholars who are far brighter than I argue the differences from the many interpretations of the story in movie form, because there are a bunch of stories about Noah out there.  For the most part the movie remains true to the many themes that are found in the story.  Its strongest is the one of free will.  Humans choose evil.  Humans choose good. Humans make choices.  Humanss are fallible even the most moral of them.  We see these in the character study that is Noah who is played by Russel Crowe.  Noah is the title of the movie, after all.  The framework of the movie is the flood story, and the movie is actually more about a man who must choose.

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Noah is, for lack of a better term, a zealot but not in the sense that the word has come to carry.  He is driven to be moral and good.  He is driven to try and interpret the visions of what his Creator has sent.  He is chosen, but first and foremost he must choose.  Noah is sent a vision, and he turns to his grandfather, Methuselah, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, to receive answers to this vision.  It is the old grandfather who leads Noah to the interpretation.  Always though, Methuselah asks questions.  He does not give answers.

Noah arrives at what he must do all on his own. The flood is coming.  It cannot be stopped.  It can be survived.  He must build an ark for the innocent.  While the story parts ways with the ages of Noah and his sons, Noah still builds over the next several years an ark, telling his sons, only one of whom has a girl, that the Creator will send them all that they need.  It is this girl, Ila, played by Emma Watson, that will remind Noah again that as a man he has free will.  He must choose.

A Watcher
With the aid of some very odd fallen angels who have been encased in stone and called Watchers, Noah builds the ark and collects the animals. (I told you there was some weirdness)  The rest of mankind, led by the evil descendant of Cain named Tubal-cain (Ray Winston), come to try and take the ark.  When Noah seeks suitable wives for his other two sons, he arrives at the conclusion that all humans are guilty, and all humans must die.

His family will not have children especially since Ila is barren.  His wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connlley), goes to see the grandfather and begs him to get Noah to see that his line must continue.  Methuselah gives us the clearest statement of the theme.  He tells Naamah that if he interferes while things may change, only trouble may follow and ultimately, since Noah is chosen by the Creator, the choice will again be in Noah's hands. Methuselah then blesses Ila, and in doing so, takes away her inability to have children.

 Following this, the flood occurs and humankind, after a battle involving Noah and the Watchers defending the ark, is wiped out except for Noah, his family, and the bad guy who has managed to get onto the ark.  Tubal-cain becomes something of the metaphorical serpent for this new start for humans.  Of course, Methuselah's prediction comes true.  Ila is pregnant which means that if she has a girl, sinful humankind will survive. Noah determines that the Creator has sent the flood to eliminate man, and so if his grandchild is a girl, he must kill her.

Eventually, Ila gives birth not to one, but two  girls.  And despite being a zealot who believes the Creator has ordered him to exterminate all of man, Noah simply cannot do it.  He has killed many in the battle.  He has listened to the dying screams of humanity in the flood, and he has even killed his own personal serpent, Tubal-cain.  He cannot, however, kill the two innocent babies.  As Ila reminds him later it was never about choosing extinction but always about choosing and that was why he was chosen.  The Creator trusts his choice. Noah chose mercy. He chose love.

So if you follow the logic of all this, congratulations. After the movie I needed time to work through what I had witnessed, and so the spoiler filled review.  I will forgive director Darren Aronofsky the weirdness of some of this movie and the pacing problems in other parts of the movie.  It is well acted with multi-dimensional characters who have a clear unified theme to present.  Overall, I liked it. Is it the best thing I've ever seen,? No.  Is it biblical? No, but it is a gutsy attempt to bring something different to the big screen.  I know that many a Christian group have condemned Noah for not following the Bible, and many an atheist group condemned Noah for bringing religion to the screen.  Like many a film before it, it starts a conversation.  We all have, after all, a choice.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Divergent - Just Don't Think about It

Divergent is okay and entertaining enough to hold your attention but try not to spend too much time thinking about it or the story will rapidly unravel with plot holes that you can drive the proverbial Mack truck through.  In all honesty, the show has more of the feel of a teen series you'd find on the CW sandwiched between the Vampire Diaries and Reign.  It is watchable, but it just lacks the depth of plot, character and acting of the famous movie franchise, Hunger Games, that it seems to wish it was.

I am a strong believer that good stories are character driven.  Divergent's characters are far from complex.  They are either extremely good or extremely bad.  We have no real connection to them. The heroine of the movie, played by Shailene Woodley, is Tris, who is divergent.  In other words, in this post apocalyptic world of the factions, Tris fits into no faction.  At a certain point during their young lives the children, on the verge to becoming adults, are tested to see which faction they belong in. They can, however, on the day after the test, choose a faction they feel they belong in even if it goes against the test.

No one seems to notice the problem with having a test to classify people and then to tell them that if they don't like the results, they can become something else.  If the point of having factions is to make sure the peace remains, which is why the factions were created we are told, why would a society want hereditary and social traits to be brought into other factions? In fact, if divergents were capable of running in more than one faction, wouldn't they end up in charge?

There are five factions: Abnegation, who are selfless and as such are given to govern; Amity, who are peaceful, "are always happy" and see to the farming ; Candor, who are honest and deal with law; Dauntless, who are brave and the protectors and soldiers; and Erudite, who are the intelligent and responsible for science and technology. Am I the only one who notices that there is no entertainment, art, or creativity in the society?

{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{Spoilers but also very predictable}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

Tris and her destined love, Four, played by Theo James, who turns out to be a divergent as well (which you probably figured out from the trailer)  must face off against the evil Eruidite leader, Jeanine played by Kate Winslet.  Tris, who was raised as Abnegation, is incredibly good, has chosen to become Dauntless, and can fight well only when she is in danger.  Four is the perfect Dauntless fighting machine, and it is love at first sight for Tris and Four.  Jeanine is apparently evil because ... well ... she just is.  Surprise, Tris's mom, played by Ashley Judd, turns out to have been raised Dauntless although she is now Abnegation.  Four turns out to be the son of the leader of the Abnegation,  and yet even though Tris's dad is the Abnegation leader's right hand, Tris has no idea that Four was once Abnegation.  Complexity is nowhere to be seen.  Characters die, but because they are two dimensional, we really have nothing invested in them, haven't really got to know them, and so we don't really feel that bad when they are lost.

At one point' for example, another divergent is roaming around the Dauntless lair after the most of the members of Dauntless have been taken over by mind control by the evil Jeanine.  He keeps asking over and over what's going on.  Apparently, when he tested, no one noticed he was divergent or he was fortunate and someone did notice warning him to pretend as had been done for Four and Tris.  So either the test is terribly inaccurate or for some reason this divergent had failed at "pretend you are Dauntless" which gets this unknown Divergent killed.  Logic anyone?

See what I mean about not thinking about it too much? It is enjoyable, but lacks the rich nuances of Hunger Games.  The sets are all one color, and there is no real comparison for each of the groups.  I am still trying to figure out why farmers would dress like medieval peasants in an advanced world?  I am also curious as to how a society with seemingly no creativity or curiosity  would survive?

Divergent will hold your attention, but that is about all. With Divergent's big money opening weekend, there is little doubt that sequels will follow, and I will probably go see them.  While it clearly wants to be the next Hunger Games, it isn't going to happen.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Muppets II the Seventh Sequel?

I know the question your dying to have answered is: Is Muppets: Most Wanted as good as The Muppets? The answer is "no" but it is fun, clever, and contains all the things we've come to love about the Muppets.  If you love the Muppets and their shtick then Muppets: Most Wanted is worth the time. Kids will like it, and there are enough gags for grown-ups too.  I found myself laughing out loud with the rest of the theater audience more than one.

Let's face it.  If you grew up when I did, you love the Muppets.  Like most Muppet movies, there are songs, surprise guests spots, a bad guy, visual gags galore, and an extremely loose plot.

The plot is that Kermit is replaced by the evil Constantine, the world's most dangerous frog.  Kermit ends up in a Russian gulag being run by Nadya played by Tina Fey. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang are easily fooled by the bad impression of Kermit  by Constantine and taken on a world tour lead by Constantine's secret "Number 2" Dominic Badguy played by Ricky Gervais.

There is a great song and dance number from Gervais and another fun one from Tina Fey.  Even Ty Burrell, who plays Interpol Inspector Jean Pierre Napoleon, gets a song, although I must admit, the whole Sam the Eagle and Jean Pierre riff on Inspector Clouseau was a fairly weak running gag.

The movie hearkens back to the Muppets' original roots with the first movie being getting the group together as was  the case in 1979's The Muppet Movie and then a world tour and stopping a jewel heist as was done in the next movie, 1981's The Great Muppet Caper.  The Muppets still have it.  Now if we can just convince Disney to release the rest of The Muppet Show onto DVD.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

CW 100 So Far Lacking

Wednesday night was the premier of the CW's The 100.  Unless it improves greatly, I for one will not be watching it for long.  The show last night was the pilot episode, so I will give it a couple of episodes to find its footing.

The premise is simple and fairly trite.  One hundred years following a massive nuclear war the surviving humans send down their teen "criminals" from the Ark, a space station, to the Earth.  The Ark is failing, and children under the age 18 who have violated the law are sent to see if they will survive.  Anyone over the age of 18 that violates the law, no matter how minor, is put to death or "floated." So minor teen offenders to the worst ones, 100 in all, are sent to Earth. This will buy the Ark perhaps a month to repair; a month it does not have. Of course the 100 do not land where they are suppose to land, and not just the environment of Earth is deadly.

The problem is there is really nothing original.  The teens are stereotyped and either angst ridden teens or goody-two shoes but very clean and attractive.  There are no real teens or even close to them among the 100.  The lead is played by Eliza Taylor, and the character she's been given is a sort of a weak version of Katniss Everdeen.  The adults are really noble good guys who will sacrifice it all to save the best of humanity or power hungry politicians who will do anything to make it seem like they want to save humanity so they can stay in power.  It is this lack of originality with no surprises, a trite plot, and weak effects that hurts the show. Hopefully, the plot will improve, but with so little in the way of strong, original plotting and solid characters, it doesn't look good.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Really CNN?

We've had this discussion before.  It seems to me that the mainstream news lives in fear of calling anyone out, but this one honestly takes the proverbial cake.  Apparently after a twitter follower of CNN asked why no one was asking the obvious questions to experts, a CNN "news anchor" -we will use the term news very loosely- agreed to ask his "experts"  -we will use the term expert very loosely-on the missing Malaysian flight the obvious question.  Ready?

CNN Host Don Lemon asked, "...people are saying to me, why aren't you talking about the possibility — and I’m just putting it out there — that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?”

This was followed by guest Brad Meltzer of Decoded, "People roll their eyes at conspiracy theories, but what conspiracy theories do is they ask the hardest, most outrageous questions sometimes, but every once in a while they’re right." Meltzer's Decoded is a show all about conspiracy theory. It appears on what was once the History Channel, for those of you who have never seen the show. Can you say "product tie-in?"

That's right, we have a news organization that has basically been covering the disappearance 24 hours a day since the plane went missing, asking if the "supernatural" is involved? Whether a result of a twitter question or not, this is not news.  It is the rankest kind of stupidity.  

If you want to know if the supernatural was involved.  It wasn't.

But just in case, you might want to ask these guys: 

Monday, March 17, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire...Meh

I have a love hate relationship with Frank Miller's work.  I liked 300 and the Dark Knight Returns, as graphic novels.  While I have never read Sin City, I liked the movie and know that there is plenty of source material for its coming sequel, but where I have a falling out with his work is he just doesn't seem to put his heart into it when he does a sequel that he probably didn't plan on doing.  The Dark Knight Strikes Again is an example and so is 300: Rise of an Empire.  I must admit that I have not read the graphic book that the movie is based on, Frank Miller's Xerxes.  Since the movie makers of 300 sought to be faithful to the source, I am making the leap that the same is true for the sequel.  I would also point out that Frank Miller is not the only author who does badly when put in the position of writing a sequel he never intended to write.  You need look no further than Michael Crichton and the Jurassic Park sequels or Dan Brown being pushed to come out with a sequel to Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code. The result was The Lost Symbol which was no where near the quality of its two predecessors.

fThe problem for 300: Rise of an Empire is there is nothing new here, or as a friend put it, "There is blood, battle and boobs" better know as gratuitous violence and nudity. There is nothing really memorable to see.  I still remember to this day as I left 300 a couple of guys in front of us discussing if there would be a sequel.  I found the statement a bit humorous.  Even though Hollywood frequently doesn't get it, there are some movies that just should not have sequels. I give you as a prime example now 300: Rise of an Empire.  There just isn't that much to work with.  Even the antagonist, the commander of Xerxes' armada, Artemisia played by Eva Green doesn't really seem all that threatening to the leader of the Greeks, Themistocles, played by Sulivan Stapleton.  The story is basically the story of the sea battle between the Persians and Greek forces while the 300 were dying at the Gates of Fire.

The first twenty or so minutes of the movie is back-story.  For those of you who saw 300, do you remember the "storyteller" or the sole survivor of the 300?  Forget that part.  You can also forget the battle charge at the end of the first movie. It too is basically ignored. While the storyteller is in the movie, he is not telling us the story.  In fact, the story is being told by Queen Gorgo, the wife Leonidas leader of the Spartans who died.  She isn't in the sea battle until the end, but somehow she knows all the stuff that is going on in the battle of the sea lead by Themistocles from Athens.  Got all that? I didn't think so.

Historically, there really was a brilliant Greek tactician name Themistocles whose delay and tactics against the Persian army gave the Greeks time to rally and defend against the much larger forces. He also  used the much smaller and faster Greek ships to tremendous advantage against the heavier, troupe laden Persian ships. In the end, unable to move his forces deep enough into Greece and having consumed all the food stuffs nearby, Xerxes' massive army, which he had left under the command of one of his generals while Xerxes returned home, collapsed because it simply did not have the supply lines he needed to keep up the attack. He finally gave up on the Greeks. Yes, his fleet was partially commanded by a woman named Artemisia although she was under the command of Xerxes' admiral and brother Ariamenes. It is also believed she may have been fleeing the battle towards its end. She survived the battle and was later sent with great honor to take care of Xerxes' illegitimate children. Here ends the history lesson.

The issue with the movie is not the history.  We know that 300 is not much more accurate either.  It is simply not fresh.  The effects that were cool in 300 are the same for its sequel, and since we've seen the same effects used to one degree of another in The Immortals and Spartacus, the TV series. The audience is not as enthralled.  In fact, at a few points, the slowly pouring blood spatter becomes  mundane, even silly like that Monty Python sketch where people keep getting body parts hacked off while on a picnic. Remembering this skit,  I even found myself guffawing a bit at the end of the final battle scene. It is basically the same story except the Greeks win.  Its story-line is  weak, and while the magic of the Oracle in the first was fascinating, the story of Xerxes becoming the God-King is not so much. If you want a movie that is basically something to not thing about at all and more visual than anything else, 300: Rise of an Empire is just the ticket.  It truly is a movie of blood, battle, and boobs.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sound Bytes

 The above are the four freedoms listed in a speech to congress by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He believed all nations should share these American rights.  They would be adopted by the United Nations in 1948 as "a universal declaration of human rights."

Now consider this meme and what it says.  I do not approve the burning of any country's flag in protest, but it seems to me to also be a part of our First Amendment freedom of expression.   American protestors have burned the flag.  I'm pretty sure that countries we have been at war with have also burned flags.  Burning the flag is also the proper way to dispose of a worn or frayed one.  There is also the problem that in a free society, the government cannot control the acts of expression by its citizens.  There has also been the burning of not just the American flag but also the flags of other countries.  Many countries have had their flags burned in protest in other countries as well as their own.  This includes the US. In other words, while it might be a nice sound byte, it is something of a ludicrous and arrogant position, and yes, Paul did actually say this.

But then there is that pesky old Bill of Rights getting in the way.  As much as some may like, you cannot pick and choose which freedom our greatest document of Democracy defends.  We see this sort of thing all the time.  The freedom extends to my beliefs only as long as it agrees with my beliefs.  If it ceases to agree, then there must be conditions and limits.  While many a leader speaks about spreading freedom and democracy to other countries, it strikes me as odd that they put their own limits on it. 

Either all people, your own or not, have the right to freedom of expression (speech) or they do not. Yes there may be consequences to actions of invoking these freedoms but to have the leaders of the US to actually attach conditions to that freedom and demand that another country's citizenry love our flag as much as we do is little more than blackmail.  As Evelyn Beatrice Hall put it in her biography of Voltaire, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Living for the Past

Pick a meme or two about the past.  The fact is the past is often more than is in the meme.

Gotta love those nostalgia memes.  Yup we of the decades past lived charmed lives marked by carefree summer days, massive violent protests during Vietnam, a president who really should have been impeached, another who traded arms for hostages when "we did not accede to the demands of terrorists."  Depending on the decade, we had small pox, chicken pox, polio, AIDS, and a tobacco industry that hid how dangerous and addictive cigarettes were. We had the assassinations of a president, a presidential candidate, and civil rights leader, and the attempted assassination of two other presidents and plots to assassinate every president from Nixon on.  We had the court ordered busing because "black kids didn't belong in white schools." We had  a complete lack of information about the chemicals we were stuffing in our foods, DDT, a drug culture, and were much more likely to be hurt or killed in a car accident. We had  Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs, the missiles of October, and the Red menace. We had gas lines and double digit inflation and unemployment. We had civil rights workers and African Americans being beaten, burned, bombed and murdered.  We had sit ins at lunch counters and on buses. We had stereotypes of African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans,and the creation of the mythical "Welfare Queen." We had a much higher probability of dying from cancer, heart attack, stroke, AIDS, and a host of other diseases. We had a life expectancy of 67 to 70 from the 1950's and the 1980's. Yep it was a magical time, and it will never come this way again.  

 I loved those days, but we tend to forget the problems of those times too. Maybe we should just live in the present and try to make the best world we can now. I am not saying not to be nostalgic.  There have always been good times and bad.  We can live though without a rose colored rear view mirror and still miss the days of our youth.  We should never belittle another time because we have changed.  I for one am thankful for things like seat belts and was never in favor of beating a child with a belt.  I also wonder if the reason we worry more about kids being taken is because we are connected and able to protect children from predators who existed in the past too. We were not noble in that we didn't use cell phones or flat screens because we didn't have them.  We would have used them if we had. We had far more than the children of the 40's who had more than the children of 30's.  You cannot go back in time but then it wasn't all hearts and roses then either. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Return of The Stupid Meme

Okay, I know...I know...

They've been missed, and I haven't done one in a while -- stupid memes.  So here you go:

And so far, I haven't apologized because I've not been asked by (insert favorite extremist group here).  The implied hate and continued divisive meme live on in the mythical land of anyone who disagrees with (insert favorite extremist group here) who believe that disagreement means you don't love your country.

God Bless America.

So here is a meme that should go viral:

Yes, there are things beyond our control, but you also choose who to blame and what hate you carry.  Even in those times when things are beyond our control, we still must rely on the choices we make.  If you don't participate or choose to spread hate and divisiveness like the first meme, you have indeed made a choice. You've bought into the myth of (insert favorite extremist group here). 

God Bless America