U2’s Joshua Tree Tour 2017 Reviewed

I saw U2 play the Rose Bowl on May 20. It was the fifth tour of theirs that I’ve seen, and it was the best overall. Here is the setlist.

Highlights: “A Sort of Homecoming,” “Mothers of the Disappeared,” American optimism theme, set design and video.

“Homecoming.” We’re in the middle of a big 80s nostalgia kick in America, and this new arrangement of a 1984 track is loaded with clever throwback synth sounds. Great version.

“Mothers.” Rarely played live at all, the somber, sonorous last song on The Joshua Tree appropriately resonated that night, acoustically and narratively. Would have been great to see Eddie Vedder, though, like Seattle got to!

The Joshua Tree is about America, the country and the hemisphere. Like the original album, this tour focused on the good, the bad, and the absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful. At points in the show, Bono called for unity (“From the party of Lincoln to the party of Kennedy…”), thanked American taxpayers for helping improve the global AIDS crisis, and called himself a “guest” in this country who felt like he was “coming home.”

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Favorites From the NPR 100

I just found some notes I made from a bucket list item I checked off a few years ago–listening to NPR’s 100 essential American recordings of the 20th century. I thought I’d blogged about this before, but apparently not.

Some of the items were familiar, but many were new to me. Here are my favorites from the ones I was hearing for the first time.

“Adagio for Strings” This beautifully ethereal piece is just magical. It’s heart rending and haunting.

 

“Ain’t That a Shame” Fun, early rock track.

 

“Blue Moon of Kentucky” An early bluegrass track with a legacy in folk and country music. Feeling connected to roots here.

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New Listenings

Here’s some great stuff that I’ve heard recently:

This piece just reminded me that no matter how much classical music I listen to, there will always be more to discover that will simply dazzle me. It’s a great big wonderful world out there, and this lusciously moving track carries a feeling that doesn’t soon fade. I need to get more into Dvorak.

 

A student recommended this one, and it’s great, isn’t it? Lots to pick apart in here.

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Reviewed But Not Recommended: Facing the Giants

Facing_the_giantsI’m a big fan of the Christian movies Fireproof and War Room, so I was looking forward to Facing the Giants, which looked like basically the same thing, but with high school football.

The other two movies have actual struggles and hard change and some serious real world difficulties in them…but not Facing the Giants.

In the first act of this movie, we see all the things wrong in the life of a losing football coach at a private Christian school: a failing job, a broken down house and car, infertility. Then he decides to turn his life over to God more fully, and suddenly everything magically turns around. He gets a new car. His wife gets pregnant. His team wins the state championship.

No, I don’t have a problem with the concept of miracles, but I don’t like a story where it’s that easy, or that selfish.

This movie turns God into Santa Claus, just waiting for us to say the right words politely enough before showering us with all the toys we want.

The big change he makes as a coach is really just doing his job a little bit better than before. And merely for that, a player’s father buys him a new car. What a materialistic gospel this movie preaches! It’s the definition of cheap grace.

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Women in Science Fiction Movies

Movies where a woman’s adventures in space and/or with aliens is prompted by the death of a loved one: Contact, Interstellar, Arrival, Aliens, Gravity.

In the latter three, the death of a child is involved. In Contact, it’s her father; in Interstellar, it’s her lover.

I have to wonder why Hollywood has such a specific template. Girls can have science fiction adventures, too, but it has to be because someone they love died?

BONUS! Movies where Scarlett Johansson plays a woman whose abilities were enhanced without her consent, for nefarious purposes: Lucy, Ghost in the Shell, The Avengers series. (Summer Glau in Firefly fits the same mold.) Interesting contrast: In the film Her, Johansson plays a disembodied voice which consciously evolves itself. 

Notice that in all of these movies, Johansson’s character is overtly sexualized (with the possible exception of Lucy). Hollywood says that women can have superpowers, as long as it makes them more attractive?

So what’s the overall message here? The ultimate female sci-fi character would be a brainwashed, sexy ninja who kicks butt in memory of her dead family?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reviewed: Risen

5759_RISEN_dvd_lgI recently saw last year’s film, Risen, about a Roman officer tasked with finding the “stolen” dead body of Jesus Christ.

It was good, but not great. Here’s why:

I liked the unique take on a familiar story–turning the Resurrection into a detective case–and I loved the great production values.

But…but…but…

The macguffin here is always referred to as “Yeshua,” which is historically accurate (a plus), but which is clearly used here so the film can avoid saying “Jesus” all the time, so it won’t appear to be one of those movies–the kind that always get hammered on Rotten Tomatoes (a minus).

Such a love/hate relationship with its subject is typical of Hollywood’s approach to the Bible in the 21st century.

Still, the content of the film is strong enough to warrant giving it a try, I suppose. I especially appreciated the very realistic depiction of the Crucifixion (not nearly as romanticized as in The Passion of the Christ), and the fact that the film starts with that. Bold.

But Joseph Fiennes’ protagonist is too flat to care about–another sadly typical trait of such films, be they faith-promoting or secular. In the first half, he’s a grim stoic. In the second, he’s a wide-eyed convert, like the other hippie-apostles around him.

Finally, about an hour after watching it, I realized why I ultimately didn’t care about the film: it didn’t make me feel anything. This is a movie for the head, not for the heart. Maybe for some, that’s a feature, not a bug.

But for me, in a movie about the Savior’s greatest miracle, it’s an unforgivable sin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1989: Hollywood’s Best Year?

I’ve said before that 1939 was Hollywood’s best year, but I think there’s also a strong case to be made for 1989, at least for blockbusters.

All of the following great movies came out in 1989:

  • Batman
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Back to the Future Part II
  • Dead Poets Society
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Abyss
  • License to Kill
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Field of Dreams
  • Glory
  • Lean On Me
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Lethal Weapon 2
  • Say Anything
  • Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

 

It was an especially good year for comedy:

  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  • Turner and Hooch
  • Parenthood
  • Major League
  • UHF

And even the bad movies from that year are the very WORST bad movies:

  • The Karate Kid Part III
  • Ghostbusters II
  • She-Devil
  • Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Salvador Dali and More at UNLV’s Barrick Museum

The Marjorie Barrick Museum at UNLV is celebrating its 50th anniversary with three cool new exhibits. Since I walk past it all the time and it’s free, I figured I should check them out. The most interesting one to me is the collection of Salvador Dali illustrations of classic literature.

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I knew right away I’d like this room! Tangential anecdote: back in my 2nd or 3rd year teaching, I thought it would be funny to put a sign with this quote over my classroom door. My principal disagreed and made me take it down.

The illustrations are to each volume of Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as Boccaccio’s Decameron. Each display gets turned to new pages twice weekly, so I suppose I’ll drop back in each time I’m on campus the rest of this semester. Go a minute out of my way to see more original Dali work up close? Yes, please.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

download-1I watched the premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine back in 1993, and I hated it. I was a teenager, and this show bored me to tears (it’s called Trek, but they don’t actually go anywhere!). I did the natural thing: I forgot it existed for more than two decades.

I checked out some episodes on Netflix recently, and I was quite amazed: Deep Space Nine is awesome!

If Rogue One is Star Wars for grown ups, Deep Space Nine is Star Trek for adults. Even the opening credits (whose slowness baffled me as a kid), illustrate this contrast. Where the first two Star Trek series had zippy, bombastic anthems playing, DS9 has a somber, stately processional.

And I never knew that DS9 was a tense political thriller! World building is a big thing in the realm of fantasy writing these days, but unlike the rest of the franchise up to that point, DS9 isn’t an obvious analogy for the political environment of our time, but has completely invented its own wholly complete and complex political milieu from scratch.

And it’s unabashedly a military thriller! This is a story of the world at war. (Gene Roddenberry always wanted Star Trek to be about a hippie Utopia without real violence; hence the emphasis on families on board the Enterprise in season 1 of TNG, and hence the detachable saucer to whisk them off to safety in time of need–both awful plot devices that quietly disappeared as that show became much better).

But DS9 is absolutely saturated in military conflict. It’s everywhere, all the time. And, again, it’s a rich, mature world of serious political intrigue. This will definitely be my next Netflix binge show. For anyone else who might have written this off back in the 90s, do yourself a favor and give Deep Space Nine another chance.

“Flower of Scotland”

I’ve reached the age where, whenever I discover something new in this world that I love, I wonder how I made it this far without ever coming across it. Such is the case wth this weekend’s discovery of the song, “Flower of Scotland.” How did I, an inveterate Celtiphile and music lover, never hear this beautiful little song in four decades?

It’s wonderful–a Scottish “Edelweiss,” if you will. Here’s the most beautiful version I’ve found so far:

Horowitz in Moscow

I first read about this concert over a decade ago, in Charles Kuralt’s memoir A Life on the Road.  Intrigued by Kuralt’s portrayal of the pianist’s passion, I picked up a recording of the performance on CD.

It’s an incredible musical experience. I can’t believe I’ve never written about it here until now. Vladimir Horowitz’s return to his homeland produced a night of sentimentality and triumph.

Clever Short Horror Films

I recently discovered the popular short films of David F. Sandberg and Lotta Losten. These are terrifically inventive little no-budget slices of dark fantasy, only 2-3 minutes each. Rich micro-storytelling with clean content, folks. I think “Attic Panic” is my favorite.

 

 

Rogue One Reviewed

download-1Q: Let’s get right to it: Is this a good movie? 

A: Yes, this is a very good movie. Definitely go see it.

Q: What’s your new power ranking for the franchise?

A: Rogue One is a worthy entry in the series; however, just as it comes between the two existing trilogies in the timeline, it comes between them in quality, as well.

  1. The Empire Strikes Back     2. Return of the Jedi     3. The Force Awakens     4. A New Hope     5. Rogue One     6. Revenge of the Sith      7. Phantom Menace     8. Attack of the Clones

Don’t let that low ranking fool you–it’s only because the films above it are so awesome. Rogue One is a terrific bit of entertainment.

This is my purely subjective preference, though. Actually, I think that, as a film, Rogue One is better made than The Force Awakens.

Q: Is this film really dark? 

A: Yes, though it’s not a tragedy–it’s a tale of triumph in the face of overwhelming adversity.  But here’s the thing: this movie is an experiment. Disney wants to see if the Star Wars universe can support different kinds of stories. I think the risk totally paid off.

But they’ve given us something new here: there’s no gee-whiz childlike wonder in this movie. This is a gritty film about adult choices; it’s a meditation on redemption through sacrifice for a greater good. Thematically, tonally, structurally, it’s not at all like most Star Wars movies. It is, however, closest to The Empire Strikes Back.

I read one review that likened it to Ocean’s 11. That was dumb. It’s much more like Saving Private Ryan. In a good way.

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“Silent Night” In “A Christmas Carol”

The rest of the world seems to have ignored the existence of this great 1999 film version of the classic story. I really like the use of “Silent Night” to illustrate people’s troubles to Scrooge. (Coincidence: this is the 2nd video with Patrick Stewart I’ve posted this week.)