Saturday, December 23, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I've seen it twice. Took the younger to it on Wednesday -- she thought it sucked. Took the elder to it yesterday -- she thought it rocked.

I enjoyed myself both times -- mostly because dad-time with the individual daughters-who-are-now-adults is a great privilege, especially when it involves watching Star Wars. But my pleasure was also the result of a bazillion movie people who worked incredibly hard to make an entertaining flick that people would care about -- and my daughters' love it/hate it/no real middle ground reactions are confirmation, to my eyes, that the Sausage Movie Factory pretty much got the mix exactly right. Love it or hate it, odds are you'll be engaged by Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Don't say I didn't warn you.
The younger hated it -- and brother, is there ever a steaming pile of oops! to hate about this movie. There are MASSIVE plot-holes and logical inconsistencies and convenient "We didn't know you could do that" miracles that keep the narrative chugging along. I'll gloss over the bulk of them and train my focus on two particularly glaring missteps:

Leia survives a skinny-dip in deep space. Nobody in the family liked this scene, so my question isn't "How?" but "Why?" This miracle adds nothing to the story, except perhaps to spritz the woman with a touch of gravitas that the actor (God rest) was unable to muster on her own.

And while we are on the matter of the late (and GREAT) Carrie Fisher, it seemed to my eyes that her CGI double was brought in to substitute for a couple of scenes -- her hospital-gown appearance at the breached bridge door is just one example. I disliked CGI Carrie in Rogue One, but I'm slowly coming around on that score. It's probably just another compromise nudged along by the increasingly diminishing standards a viewer must adopt in order to enjoy Star Wars Universe (SWU) story-telling.

The cruiser is completely out-of-gas, but nevertheless makes a Kamikaze light-speed jump through the enemy's biggest ship. Nothing to add, really -- there are other "wait-a-minnits" but this one is a personal peeve.

The elder loved the movie -- and, yes, there is indeed much to love about it. There are a couple of poignant character arcs, particularly with Poe and Finn. I initially thought the romance between Finn and Rose appeared out of nowhere, but the second viewing revealed a persuasive progression. Lessons get learned in a manner that has emotional depth and subtlety.

The action sequences walk the tightrope between adolescent "wow" and adult "yikes." The most emotionally charged fight is the choreographed chop-sockey extravaganza between the Imperial Guard and Rey and Ren. This occurs at the two-thirds mark of the movie, which leaves the final third of the movie feeling a bit slack, but oh well.

2D vs. 3D -- I hate to say it, but 3D wins. It brings out an articulation that heightens the sense of scale and drama.

The Politics -- Star Wars politics have always been of a piece with the story-telling, really: confused and contradictory and utterly vulnerable when exposed to the lightest scrutiny. I mean, in what universe is equating the Vietcong with stick-wielding teddy-bears considered a compliment? If the political statements supposedly* being made (as opposed to the narrative inconsistencies, etc.) are what prevent the viewer from having a good time, then maybe just perhaps we are all feeling a wee bit snow-flaky these days? Just sayin'.
  • A person could argue the films are an impassioned defence of nascent Republicanism, determinedly moored to founding ideals informed by religious devotion. I'm not gonna make that argument, but it would be an easier sell than claiming the SWU is any sort of sustained Neo-Liberal argument for a Marxist Utopia.
Final note: Kelly Marie Tran is officially THE most ADORABLE person associated with the SWU. Somebody please put her in touch with Tom and Rita to keep that approachability alive.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017: Sounds

When it comes to my year in music 2017 was less about discovery than it was about catching up. And I have to wonder if that's not the truth right across the board on pretty much all matters.

But let us begin with the discovery. This year my wife introduced me to Alexa Dirks — a.k.a. Begonia.
I tried to find a short video that encapsulates the full effect of this woman, but haven't yet lucked across one. In performances she can be a barrel of laughs one minute, then burning with pathos the next — Prana with a microphone. To be honest, she's not someone I cue up frequently. But once I start listening to her I can't stop until she's finished singing what needs to be sung. This early performance, with Ariel Posen, of Marvin Gaye's “Let's Get It On” is one example of what pulls me in. Why the arrangement so similar to Johnny Cash's rendition of “Hurt”? Where are they — where is she — going with this?

Where is she going with this? is the question that grips me every time I do cue her up. At some point I inevitably stop what I'm doing (the dishes, usually) just to follow along. Here's her most recent video:

Catching Up

MetalGojira's Magma got a lot of love last year. I finally picked it up this summer. Choose your favourite Metal descriptors — “brutal,” “punishing,” “relentless” — then throw in “strangely melodic and approachable,” and you've got an album that's better than anything that came out of the same field this year, too. Also, Hibiki Miyazaki deserves a massive shout-out for the outstanding album art.
This was one of those rare years when Devin Townsend did not put out an album (last year he put out four, so we'll let him Mulligan '17). He pitched in on a track with Comeback Kid, though, and “Absolute” got a great deal of play from me this year. Bonus: this guy does a wicked job of playing along (behind every great bedroom guitarist...)

Rammstein: Paris — until they decide to visit Toronto, this concert from five years ago will have to do.

RockClutch, Robot Hive / Exodus. During last year's delight in all things Clutch, I somehow missed their 2005 all-killer-no-filler entry. I'm glad I did, because it gave me more to grok on in '17.
Jazz — this year's runaway catch-up field. It's hardly fair to would-be up-and-comers that gate-keepers continually discover Lost Treasures Of The Giants buried deep in the vault. 2017 saw the release of Bill Evans' Another Time: The Hilversum Concert (the follow-up to last year's sensational Some Other Time). Competing with jazz giant Evans was jazz giant Thelonious Monk, with his restored 1959 soundtrack, Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960.

Then Gary Burton announced his retirement, prompting me to give consideration to The New Gary Burton Quartet — Julian Lage (guitar), Antonio Sánchez (drums), Scott Colley (bass) joining Burton on vibraphone. Listeners who dug what Burton did with the likes of Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny will most certainly clue into what he got up to in Common Ground (2011) and Guided Tour (2013).
If you're looking for new, I'll let you consult PopMatters' yearly list, most of which contains artists who tilt toward the “challenging” end of the spectrum — not my cup of tea, for the most part. Joe Fiedler's Like, Strange is a standout. Loose, punchy fun — the sort of thing you might expect from a Sesame Street musician.

Finally, here are The Top 10 Albums of 2017, according to everyone. I don't own any of them.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Advent Calendar: Ernst Bloch, René Girard

"This is a good essay, imo," said my Facebook friend, adding the disclaimer: "Better than usual for First Things."
Ernst Bloch — an atheist who believed Jesus was the Messiah, a Stalinist who disagreed with Marx, and a materialist who embraced natural law theory — is a guide into the concealed theology of contemporary liberalism, whose outlook remains profoundly, if paradoxically, biblical in one respect. Having rejected a Christian understanding of nature, it retains an intensely Christian understanding of history. 
Our Secular Theodicy, by Matthew Rose
Bloch: "Mine ly-berry has the most colourful books"

Girard: "My Day Ty-MARE has the most boo-KINGS!"
Reading it put me in mind of René Girard, who followed some of the same currents to reach a similar conclusion, with crucial distinctions.
“Today’s ideology consists of presenting the 10 Commandments as the worst form of tyranny and oppression. The Enlightenment would never have done that. Voltaire was making fun of the church, and aspects of corruption in the Church. But today the 10 Commandments, for instance ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ is regarded as the worst oppression. Then everything is oppression. Everything is victimization. And this I think is the totalitarianism of the future. Marxism was only its most primitive form. 
I think there is another totalitarianism, which is to say, ‘Don’t believe Christianity is about defending the victim, it is just pretend(ing) to. And we are going to show you how to defend the victim,’ which is precisely everything we see today. And the idea of Anti-Christ — an imitation of Christ — which would at the same time be a total betrayal of Christianity, I think we have to read much of contemporary history in this light. Of course it’s so controversial and potentially explosive. I would say today what we call ‘Political Correctness’ and so forth is a Super-Christianity” 
René Girard, in conversation, 2001.
My familiarity with Girard, such as it is, is primarily informed by this CBC Ideas series by David Cayley — the best five hours I've spent on the internet in the last five years.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Advent Calendar: Cogency of Thought & Deed - The Missing Link

If you act
As you think
The missing link
Synchronicity I, The Police
Back in the late-90s-to-early-aughts, David Frum could be counted on to rook me into purchasing the occasional National Post. The headlines assured me he was present to take on some lefty shibboleth I favoured -- gay marriage, for example. Alright then, I'd think -- persuade me.

Alas, persuasion was not his intent. He'd throw down a string of contentious ideological canards that led to a final put-down punchline mocking the opposition as moral and intellectual invalids. The ploy struck me as a youthful aping of William F. Buckley -- or Ann Coulter, talking in her sleep.

Don't waste time or intellectual energy on cogency of thought -- "defend" your ideological presumptions with a ceaseless barrage of invective against the opposition. To my dismay, this has become the default setting not just for Canada's Intellectual Left, but for aspiring advocates for the Disappearing Center as well.

Say what you will about Jordan Peterson (please), but cogency of thought is a big deal to him. When giving Peterson their consideration, however, this is precisely what our nation's last surviving prestige print platforms are having difficulties with. The less said about Tabitha Southey's "nyah-nyah-a-boo-boo" for Maclean's, the better. The Walrus parks itself left-of-centre, but should be intellectually robust enough to issue a vigorous critique. Ira Wells takes a crack at it, but good Lord, I hope he (or his TA) does a more careful job of grading his students' essays than his editor did fact-checking Wells' presumptive claims. Over at The Globe & Mail, Simona Chiose struggles mightily and spills a tonne of ink to reach a balanced POV on the controversial prof. Alas, the headline and sub-heading give away the game:
"Jordan Peterson and the trolls in the ivory tower: In the fight for 'free speech,' a university professor has found himself backed by the Internet's most ruthless denizens while students cry foul."
If you need help parsing the rhetorical structure of those two sentences, let me know.
This photo, OTOH, presents a challenge.
Full disclosure: if I had to guess I'd say I've devoted 12 hours of my life attending to Peterson's words. I am on-board with some of his claims; others I would question. Occasionally he drops some flat-out rubbish (commit yourself to that much open disclosure on the internet and lapses are bound to happen). If I could magically get three or four of those Peterson hours back for the purpose of reapplying myself to the life and times of Donald Duck, I'd cheerfully accept.

Peterson leads with his chin, he's willing to engage seriously and respectfully with the dopiest of slavering acolytes, and he will take care articulating his line of reasoning so as not to be misunderstood. Ironically enough, the person he most reminds me of is the late Christopher Hitchens. And as with Hitch, while I deeply admire Peterson's candour and rhetorical command, it is his temperament that occasionally chafes.

But I'm glad he's around. If his opponents took a proper stab at emulating his rhetorical method, the ensuing discussion could be enlightening and might actually get us somewhere.

Endnote: need help with that? Jay Heinrichs leans left and he's got a book for you (some tips contained therein (hm - "Heinrichs." There's just something about that name...).

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Whisky's 'Advent Calendar' Begins!

If we share
This nightmare
Then we can dream
Spiritus Mundi
Synchronicity I, The Police
Forgive me, but I'm trying my utmost to avoid referencing that other mention of Spiritus Mundi.
Spiritus Mundi by Drecksen
During a recent glance through my browser history I was struck by how much time I spent giving consideration to explicitly religious matters. What happened to my obsession over underground comix and dumb rock songs?

Such are the times we find ourselves in. This business about "passionate intensity" -- enduring and maybe even surviving it -- seems to be the locus of concern (for me, at least). I'm tempted to dump a bunch of links in one post, but most of them are long-reads so I hope instead to parcel them out one day at a time -- like an Advent Calendar! Only packed with intellectual nutrition!

Speaking of Advent, let's begin with this short comic by Mike Dawson: "Keep Christ in Christmas, or just admit it's a shopping holiday, one or the other please." You know me. You know I get feisty when hit with "Either/Or" propositions. But Dawson is so charming and thoughtful with his, he doesn't just get a pass from me -- he gets my heartiest recommendation. Go and read!

Friday, December 01, 2017

"My Sad Cuisine," Continued: Indomie Mi Goreng Instant Noodles

Another staple in "my sad cuisine" -- Indomie Mi Goreng Noodles.
Vegetables not included.
I've been a sucker for instant noodles for as long as I've been able to boil a pot of water. I started with a leftover box of KD I'd scored from a Boys Brigade camporee, and quickly moved on to the cheaper, more nutritionally-suspect Asian varieties, most of which park substandard farina noodles in a steaming bowl of MSG brine. Indomie Noodles beat that scene by an Indonesian mile.

Roger Ebert turned me on to them. Similar to KD, they are a coated noodle -- but that's where the similarities end. When your three minutes of onerous prep is over you have a modest serving of noodles coated with a combination of chili paste, sweet soya sauce and dried salty stuff. Dee-lish!

I never stop there, however. Invest an additional five minutes and you can quickly flash-fry a few of the veggies threatening to spoil in the back of your refrigerator. Add some shrimp and Asian fish-balls (the salami of the sea!) and you've got a dish that's passably nutritious.
Results may vary.