Monday, May 14, 2018

The God I Don't Believe In

“When somebody says to me, “I don’t believe in God,” my first response is, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in.” Almost always, it’s the God of supernatural theism.” 
- Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary

Another version of that ends with the asker responding, "I don't believe in that God either."

This is a common misunderstanding among some of my liberal believing friends.  The assumption is that my lack of a belief is a response to their deity.  Either I abandoned faith because of a faulty view of God... or that my remaining Atheist is because I do not have a right view of God.

They seem to struggle with the idea that I don't believe in any deities... not just theirs.  Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, old, new, liberal, conservative... I don't believe in any of them.

Because they hold to a notion that I just haven't "met" the right god yet (theirs), I am regularly encouraged to listen to this or that speaker, read this or that book. They spend zero time reading the books and listening to the evangelists of other religions... but they can't understand why my eyes glaze at the thought of reading theirs.

Beyond that, I sometimes get the angry liberal believer who chastises me for only addressing conservative, fundamentalist religion.  "Why do you not address liberal belief?  Why do you only go after "the easy targets""?

When liberal Christians start petitioning the state to make my students pray to Jesus, I'll bitch about that too.  But they're not, so I don't.  The vast majority of my outward complaints concerning religion concern its tangible negative influence on humanity.  If your belief in God encourages you to do things like smoke pot and save the whales, I'm not going to have much to say.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Movie Review: The Views of April

Well, the month of April flew by and I only made it out to the movies 8 times.  It takes someone with Moviepass to say that number in the diminutive sense.  In fact, I repeated 2 movies, so there are only 6 quick takes this month.  Note: Moviepass is now limiting cardholders to one viewing, but I grabbed a repeat of Avengers before they forced my app upgrade.

Isle of Dogs: B

The word that comes to mind for Isle of Dogs is charming.  I found this movie a treat to watch.  The story was acceptable, but where the movie really shines is in its visuals and music.  Plus… there are lots of dogs.

A Quiet Place: B+

This is one of those movies that could have, and should have, been an A.  However, I found some of the plot holes distracting.  In addition, this movie had such wonderful, natural tension that they did not need to go for the “make you jump” moments of which lesser horror movies avail themselves.  Yet they did.  Frequently.

Setting those things aside, there is much in this movie to love.  The silence is amazing and it spreads to the audience.  I was in a packed theater where it was so quiet, you could almost hear peoples’ fingers digging into their armrests.  There is little dialogue, so the actors rely on their face and eyes to deliver their message.  This unique approach is so engaging, I had to see it again.

Truth or Dare: C-

Remember when I mentioned lesser horror films?  Have you seen the movie where young people get picked off one by one?  Then you have seen this.  Still, it gets a C level grade because I was entertained.  It had been a long day, I had my bucket of popcorn, and I was sitting in a theater watching a movie that was predictable to a fault, but I never looked at my watch.

Chappaquiddick: B

I knew the general details of this story from a documentary I saw once on the Kennedy’s.  In short, Senator Ted Kennedy got drunk and drove into a river.  The young woman accompanying him was drowned.

The movie takes you through the days following.  It was a hard view.  I was frustrated watching the wealthy and powerful decide how they were going to handle the situation politically.  There were few voices interested in truth or responsibility – just spin.  It is a well-made movie and I think everyone should see it.  Though you probably won’t enjoy it.

Rampage: B-

I know I will probably take some crap for putting this movie in the B range but I liked it.  What can I say? I am a sucker for movies that use gorillas to pull at your heart-strings.  Honestly, I liked it better than Jumanji.

Avengers Infinity War: A-

Waiting for April 27 was like waiting for Christmas when I was a kid.  I am all-in for the Marvel movies and this Avengers’ installment did not disappoint.

I have said it before that the fulcrum of movies like this is the bad guy.  If you do not have an engaging character on the other side of the balance, the movie will seem hollow (e.g. Steppenwolf).  The low-key delivery of every Thanos line nailed it for me.  In addition, he had a decent cadre of lackeys backing him up.

On the hero side, pretty much everyone delivered.  RDJ’s Tony Stark gets better with every movie.  Thor is finally fun to watch.  Bruce Banner’s performance anxiety was hilarious.  Dr. Strange is the perfect counterbalance to Iron Man.  If I commented on every hero in the movie, this would no longer be a short review.  Suffice to say that, after 19 MCU movies, I want Marvel to keep taking my money!

This article was originally posted at Salt Lake Film Review.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Somebody Moved... And It Wasn't Me

I am almost 50 years old.  I have known of Donald Trump for decades.  My first memory of him was probably one of his many appearances on Howard Stern back when Stern was on the E! Channel.  I wasn't a regular Stern watcher, but it was the kind of thing you might stop on back when there were no DVRs and one would channel surf.

I remember, even back in my twenties, thinking Trump was a reprobate and a scoundrel.  The way he talked about people, and women particularly, soured my stomach.

Over the decades, interviews I caught with him did nothing to turn those initial impressions.  To me, Trump was an example of what could go wrong in the development of the human soul.

I have many friends and family who voted for him.  They recoil at anything critical said of him and treat with suspicion or disdain anyone who would offer those critiques.

I know these folks.  They are otherwise good people.

Because of that, I am confident that if we could turn back the clock, if the younger me could have sat with the younger them and we watched those interviews together, examined his behavior, they would have had the same reactions I did.  I can't imagine any of them would have held Trump in high esteem.

If I had told their younger selves that one day that same man, with no change of heart or life, would occupy the presidency, they would have been horrified.  Beyond that, if I told them that they would vote for and defend him... they would never believe me.

Yet here we are.

Someone's moral compass has moved to accommodate Trump... and it wasn't mine.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Movie Review: March Movie Madness

I saw 11 movies in the month of March. I think that may be my personal best- it’s good to set goals for yourself. So, which were the winners and losers? Here are my short takes:

The Greatest Showman: A-
I saw this movie in the theater 5 times. Loved the music, loved the dancing, loved the characters. For me, a darn near perfect movie.

Death Wish: B- 
I actually did a full review for this, but the short version is I liked it. If you go in expecting a Bruce Willis/action/popcorn flick, you won’t be disappointed.

Red Sparrow: C 
It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. There were a few things that worked, but a lot that didn’t.

Tomb Raider: C- 
I had higher hopes for this one. It doesn’t look like a straight to video production, but it felt like a straight to video production.

Black Panther: B+
I did a full review of this one too. A wonderful addition to the Marvel line.

Pacific Rim: Uprising: C  
If it were not the sequel to an unexpectedly well-crafted predecessor, I might have liked it more. However, it just felt like warmed-over leftovers.

Love, Simon: A- 
I hesitate to give this such a high grade because I have only seen it once. I usually reserve the A grade for movies which I can watch repeatedly and never get bored. However, I suspect Love, Simon is going to do that for me. A well written and superbly acted drama with excellent pacing; loved it!

Thoroughbreds: B 
This movie was off-kilter and disturbing, so I hesitate to say I liked it. However, I was intrigued by it. It almost had a Fight Club vibe.

Unsane: B-
This was another movie that I can’t exactly say I liked, but it kept me engaged. During the first third of the movie, the plot came to a fork in the road. They went one way, but I thought the other path would have been more interesting (and believable). I’ll refrain from spoilers.

A Wrinkle in Time: D+
I knew from the preview that this movie was not going to work for me. It had some wonderful visuals and a Hamilton quote that made me smile, but that could not save it from its plodding and pedestrian plotline.

Ready Player One: B+
The trailer made me afraid that they were going to deviate substantially from the book, and they did.  Still, they managed to keep the heart of the book intact. In the end, I was very satisfied. I don’t think I could watch this repeatedly and not get bored, but I will see it multiple times.  If nothing else, it will take a number of views just to spot all of the cool pop culture references.

This article was originally posted at Salt Lake Film Review.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Movie Review: Death Wish (2018)

I am sitting here watching the Oscars –– my version of the Superbowl –– and I felt the need to write Death Wish a review. There is not one point of this movie that will ever end up on an Oscar nomination list, but I still liked it.

Full disclosure, I am almost fifty. I grew up on Bronson and Eastwood flicks that had lots of shooting. Throughout my teens, popcorn flicks with Schwarzenegger and Stallone littered the screens. So, when Willis does a remake of a Bronson classic, yeah, I’m in.

This movie is my fast food. I am hungry, going from Point A to Point B, and I need a drive-thru. There is better and worse drive-thru, and there is better and worse in the mindless action category. Death Wish falls into the better part of the menu.

If you have seen the trailer, you have seen the movie. Successful doctor’s family gets injured or killed by thugs. Feeling frustrated in his helplessness, the doctor gets a gun and looks for some payback.

Really, that is it. You don’t have to worry about spoilers because there is nothing to spoil.  The one left turn I thought they might take in this movie, they didn’t take.

Death Wish leads you exactly where you are expecting you to go. The drive-thru is handing you two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion, on a sesame seed bun. No surprises. The question is, will that make you happy right now?

For me, the answer was yes. The last twenty seconds of the film hinted at a sequel and I am looking forward to it.

This review originally appeared at Salt Lake Film Review.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Movie Review: Black Panther

I always like someone to tell me the bad news first. Give me that, so I can move on. So, for Black Panther, here it is – Black Panther is a very good movie!

That may not sound like bad news but I bought into the hype. When the critics’ commentaries started rolling in, they were stellar. Words like “masterpiece” were generously used. As much as I tried to not let that influence me, it did.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the movie and am excited about the potential of these characters and what they bring to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and it is the characters that make this movie shine.

Like Nolan’s Batman movies, Black Panther has such a deep bench of interesting players, one can almost forget who has the center seat.

First among them is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. I maintain that every successful movie has a bad guy that you are kind of rooting for, and Jordan brings this in spades. Killmonger’s charisma spills over in every scene. Though corrupted, his agenda has a moral arc that pulls at your sympathies.

Then there is the Black Panther’s posse. One of the many enjoyable aspects of this movie is how much he relies on his team. He is not the smartest in the room, that position goes to his sister Shuri, who is much like Q from the Bond movies. She keeps T’Challa equipped with the best gadgets Wakanda has to offer.

Nor is T’Challa the greatest warrior. That title seems to fall to the captain of his guard, Okoye. She and her troops out Amazon Wonder Woman’s Amazons. I was riveted by the tension she created when wrestling with to what degree her duty to the king of Wakanda outweighed her duty to its people.

Nakia, who has T’Challa’s heart, serves as his conscience. She has left the safety and security of Wakanda to be of service to the needy in the world at large. Throughout the story, she prods the Black Panther to consider serving the whole of humanity.

Beyond that, there are a number of minor characters but none of them are throwaways. Each adds pertinent puzzle pieces to the story which provides a rich tapestry.

So you may be wondering about the lead character. Chadwick Boseman brings the gravitas of a monarch. He is the King and you never doubt it. Beyond that, he has a moral compass that does not flinch. He is the leader in whom you put your confidence. The Black Panther is similar to Captain America in that sense, but with clear differences. He is not a boy scout and he is not a soldier. He is the ruler of a nation, perhaps more comparable to King Arthur. He does not have the luxury of being an individual, he belongs to his people.

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe closes its first decade and starts another, I see the Black Panther and his supporting characters being at the foundation of where they go next. This was a good start, but I suspect the best is yet to come.

This review originally appeared at Salt Lake Film Review.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Getting Started With Disc Golf

So you have heard about Disc Golf and you are thinking about giving it a try.  I am only a few years into it myself, so let me give you a couple of tips about getting started.

Disc Golf is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States right now.  There are over 2500 courses in America, so odds are you live fairly close to one or more.

I talked about the various benefits of  Disc Golf in a previous blog, but to sum it up - Disc Golf is inexpensive, social, and gets the body moving.

I have to say that the game is less social for me than it used to be.  I play A LOT and I have not joined up with the local league yet, so most of the time I am throwing by myself.  This is fine for me though.  I play a podcast or some music and I am totally Zen for a little over an hour.  If you want it to be social, you can most likely hook up with a local club.

But let's get you started.  The first thing you should do is download UDisc on your phone.  It is a Disc Golf app that will keep and track all of your data regarding scores.  However, most important for starting out is that, using GPS, it will show you the location of all of your local courses.   One more click and it will transfer you to Google maps to take you there. It can also, usually, give you a map of the course.  I love UDisc because it finds courses for me when I am out of state.  The free version of UDisc will give you all you need to get started.

Next, we need to get you some discs.  There is a lot of opinion about what discs to start with but, honestly, I don't think it matters much.  Your throw will be pretty raw and inconsistent in the beginning so one disc will be as good as the next.

With that in mind, I suggest the starter pack from Discraft.  It will give you one putter, one mid-range, and two drivers.  It also includes a bag which will hold about 8 discs and a water bottle.  Amazon usually sells them for under 40 bucks, which is a good price... and about what one round with a cart would cost you at a ball golf course.

Those first four discs will teach you a lot about your throw and disc behavior.  Once you notice that you start selecting one driver over another for certain throws, you are probably ready to start adding a few more discs to your collection.  Each disc has a tendency towards certain behaviors.  As your throw becomes more consistent, you can begin to rely on getting certain behaviors out of certain discs.

If you never progress beyond a few games a year by yourself or with friends, the starter pack will probably be plenty for you.  But even if you stay with the game and grow on to bigger bags and more discs - you will still have use for that starter pack.  You can have a friend use it when you take them out to introduce them to the sport.  You can also use it as a secondary bag.  There are two courses by my house that have a reputation for "eating" discs.  I keep my original starter bag filled with older discs that would not pain me to lose when I play these courses.

Let me know how it goes!
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