The Dark Knight

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When Batman was reinvented from a comic book hero to The Dark Knight of graphical novels, the tones changed in both colors and plots from something colorful to something dark.

As Batman was not gifted with superpowers and was relegated to silliness by the lampooning of the Adam West Batman TV series, perhaps a re-working was necessary to sustain any ongoing commercial interest.

Despite the “POW” and “BAM” commonly associated with Batman, an audience remained and, in my opinion, has suffered for it in the movie theaters. Each of the Batman movies has tried to find the “dark” of the Dark Knight in terms of the colors within the movie. Scenes seem to be largely indoors or at night. What follows is a very depressing depiction of what big city life could or may someday be. But still, whether Keaton, Kilmer, or Clooney, the movies generally overplayed the villain’s comic origins, resulting in an all-star tribute to characters that had no connection to the audience. As mindless distractions in the theater, or in the comfort of your living room if wise, these were tolerable, at best.

“Batman Begins” refocused on The Dark Knight, retelling the origin story. It was once again dark in tones, but Christian Bale was able to connect to the audience where predecessors did not, understanding the man inside the costume. And this made the movie closer to the potential of what a Batman movie should be, despite another “over the top” ending.

That was a good thing, because this time, Batman is a secondary figure in the movie, and the various bat-toys neither steal scenes nor distract from the action. Okay, mostly. With rare exception, supervillains arrive on the scene in some splendor and have some sort of chip on their shoulders that give them cause to their evil. The last we saw The Joker, Jack Nicholson played the character like he plays any character. He may have makeup, but it’s still Jack Nicholson hamming it up. This time around, the curious choice of Heath Ledger to play the Joker (Robin Williams expressed an interest to play the role if one wanted Nicholson redux) is a resounding success.

For one, he’s very, very good at playing a creepy character. We never understand truly why he is the way he is, but we recognize great evil when we see it, and we see it often. “The Dark Knight” probes at evil through this remarkable character, who prefers anarchy to the more typical selfish purposes (greed or vengeance, anyone?). But, the Joker is clearly (and entertainingly) evil, even as Batman is clearly (and boringly) good. It’s the dark that intrigues us, not the light. So The Joker fascinates us, and Batman more or less has the night off.

Ultimately it is worldview at issue. A couple of Joker quotes: “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules!” and “See, I’m not a monster… I’m just ahead of the curve.”

The Joker lives a life free of moral constraints, with various acts that try to persuade the masses that they are not so different. A life without moral boundaries is the essence of true freedom, and it’s troubling to us. Aside from Batman’s inner demons of whether he’s helping or hurting the cause of justice, three morality choices come to mind:
1) Two “bad” guys are recruited for one opening in the Joker’s gang. Whoever lives to join wins. This is a fairly easy one, but would you kill another human under that condition? Probably. Some wouldn’t, though.
2) Batman is forced to save either his girl-friend from childhood, Rachael, or the “White Knight” District Attorney who appears to be the most visible beacon for a corrupted Gotham City. Which do you choose, the “selfish” relationship or the greater good?
3) A ferry of convicted felons and a ferry of passengers are given triggers for explosive devices on each other’s boat. Push the button first, you live. If neither kills the other by a certain time, you both blow up. Who has the wherewithal to make the choice that dooms hundreds?

What is the right thing to do? What is the wrong thing? On what basis do we choose? Or do you ignore the question?

One of the Joker’s triumphs is turning the “White Knight” District Attorney into “Two-Face,” a fallen character who prefers to let chance sort things, like vengeance. Two-Face: “You thought we could be decent men at indecent times. But you were wrong; the world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance… unbiased, unprejudiced, fair.” With his trademark coin, it is heads or tails by which fate is determined.

This is the grit that makes a movie “dark.” It’s not a color scheme, or wet and steamy back alleys, or a city at night, it’s the questions raised that resonate with that little flicker of recognition of the evil desires within each of us. We’re horrified by the monster before us, but it touches our deepest concerns for ourselves, our families, our society, and our future.

What we need is a “Dark Knight,” a hero who does the things necessary to make us feel safe. In Batman’s words: “Sometimes, truth isn’t good enough; sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” He serves that purpose well.

Pretty serious stuff for a superhero movie. Also, as the movie concludes 2.5 hours later, we must take some comfort that we've already had “Iron Man” for humor.

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Lucinda Williams - In Concert

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I went to see Lucinda Williams at the Atlanta Botanical Garden last night. This was my first visit to the Garden for a concert, and I had only been there once before to see the Chihuly art exhibit several years ago...

The stage was set to the front of the Fuqua conservatory, where a small lily pond separates the band from the lawn. Doors opened at 7:00, and we (two friends from work and one's fiance) arrived around 7:45 with blankets at the ready. Given the ease of entry at the gate, it was somewhat startling to see the lawn mostly full, and certainly full to the point where seeing any facial expressions of the band was impossible.

The concert, as it turns out, was a sell-out, and the regular goers of the venue knew to arrive before 7:00 and to bring lawn chairs. Next time...

Before getting to the band, there were several observations worth mentioning. First, the lawn area is flat. I hadn’t really thought about the absence of an inclined amphitheater type setting during my previous visit, so to some extent, the selection of the Garden for hosting concerts seemed a bit forced. It was difficult to find a comfortable posture due to wrists which tired of supporting various body positions to see over those seated in the lawn chairs. I know, an old man’s gripe.

Secondly, by and large, the crowd mostly remained seated. I'm sure there are other artists whose music pulls people out of their seats, but this was primarily an audience prepared to listen. Seated audiences are a rare thing; I attribute it to many of the attendees being supporting members of the Garden, meaning mid-50’s or older and not particularly energetic concert goers.

The Garden is also quite the vendor for alcoholic beverages. Who knew? Sweetwater 420 bottled beers were $6 and wine bottles were $16, all served in plastic tubs with ice with a friendly reminder to use the recycle bins placed around the lawn.

Perhaps not so much a surprise were the fairly numerous, largely female, attendees who gave Lucinda a couple of songs to see what she was about, then gathered around their blankets and chatted amongst each other, loudly. But no so much in our area, as a curly white haired man took it upon himself not only to make aggravated faces, but to approach them and tell them to "Shut up!" Useful, he was.

Lucinda Williams is an acquired taste, due largely to an accent that leans to the redneck side of “Southern.” She can write startling emotional lyrics, usually in the third person in wonderful narratives. When she moves to the second person, it generally means that men should run for cover. It won’t speak well of them, but it makes for a good listen.

Of all the venues to which I’ve been, the Garden had the most amazing acoustics. Every inflection of every word could be heard, which is both welcome and necessary to fully enjoy Williams’ songs.

At the end of every concert, one hopes to have discovered something about the artist that they didn’t know before. Lucinda, it is fairly well known, is a perfectionist. The sheer number of songs that speak of past lovers suggests that this likely contributes to her presumed problems with men, no matter how she derides the men of her life.

In concert, her perfectionist requirements were abundantly clear, as she complained from the heat from the stage lighting. It was a typical July evening in Atlanta, and there was not a hint of a breeze. That said, she’s from Louisiana, where I’m certain she’s heard of a fan.

She was quite fussy about the lighting, to the point of expletives, and the audience could hear every word of her discontent. Still, the passion which turns her pronunciation of “heat lamp” seemingly into a cuss word is the same passion that drives much of her music. Despite perfectly fine performances under the accursed heat, she continued to apologize throughout the night. The fix for this outing was a blue stage light, the color of which was appropriate for much of her work.

The band was awesome, particularly guitarist Doug Pettibone, who was given ample room to roam. The highlight for me was “Come On,” which improved upon her recent album version and which makes “You’re So Vain” seem a love song in comparison. I’d hate to be the guy she was singing about.

Her song selection was a bit uneven. New songs planned for an October release were promising, but most in the audience probably had a favorite or two that was left out. The song I most wanted to hear, and didn’t, was “Side of the Road,” a very smart song about searching for a measure of freedom while within a committed relationship. In any case, it was a great evening, and a great venue. Next time… lawn chairs!

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The Grand Lottery

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On a recent CD Sampler from Paste Magazine, a track by Cloud Cult caught my ear. It begins with a lengthy and beautiful musical introduction, then the words surface, sounding fine within the music, but… what was that line? The track is titled “When Water Comes to Life.” A snippet:

And when they sew you closed
They'll give you back to the water
From where we're all born
From where we're all born

Isn’t this something we all wonder about? Or, if not for laziness or fear of implications, would wonder about? It’s sung in a tone that assumes acceptance of the idea, and perhaps a sense of satisfaction. How strange.

I don’t have enough faith to accept that we all came from water. Let’s see…

Some time after the universe exploded into being from nothing (4.6 billion years ago), the earth found itself in just the right spot not to be pulled into the fiery surface of the sun or spun away into the frozen reaches of outer space. As if ordered in a bundle package from Amazon.com, it also included all the necessary elements that we would need to exist, breathe, build and fuel our cars, and, as importantly, air-condition them. Amongst other things, of course.

We can’t just start at the water from where we’re all born. There are intricacies in how what got where… There have been discernible findings of micro-evolution, or changes within species, granted. But from there, scientists tell us we most suppose, because there is no evidence of their various theories on how we arrive at that point.

We’re asked to accept that all of the preceding steps were also in good order: macro-evolution (life from another form of life – no definitive fossils have been found), organic evolution (life from the non-living), planetary evolution (planetary formations), chemical evolution (from hydrogen and helium at the Big Bang), stellar evolution (bodies forming from the instant chaos), and our Big Bang.

But let’s focus on the water… this is a blog after all, not a book… nicely positioned on the Earth for good things to happen. We must assume (the very phrase used by evolutionists at every stage of this development) that in the ocean or a pond, something happened (the combination of carbon materials, nitrogen, amino acids, energy) that formed the first simple living cell. That's quite a supposition! But there's a problem, aside from the little "life from no life" issue. There’s no such thing as a simple cell!

"Although the tiniest bacterial cells are incredibly small, weighing less than 10-12 grams, each is in effect a veritable micro-miniaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machinery built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world." (Michael Denton)

The problem is called irreducible complexity. If you take out one functioning part, it ruins the whole system. Or, if building from the ground up with desirable traits (natural selection), it’s difficult to fathom why certain cogs would be formed within a system that wouldn’t work without the complete set. The cogs wouldn’t form and wait “millions of years” understanding that the next cog was just around the corner to make things work. And that’s just a cell. In terms of human health, we’re all too well aware when just one thing goes wrong in our bodies. Missing cogs or cogs that don't work aren't beneficial to a living organism.

But, we must assume… millions or billions of years plus chance can account for such things.

“Chance,” apparently, is our benefactor. We think of it as a random coincidence that causes something to happen. The truth is, scientists can observe chemical behavior, but they have no idea how life originated. But "chance" is a great diversion; we somehow find ample room for possibilities in the word and don't demand further explanation.

Chance is a mathematical probability of known outcomes. A coin has a 50% chance of being flipped heads (or tails). Excluding consideration of any supernatural source, we must assume that there is at least one chance in (fill in the blank with some number) of life emerging spontaneously. We’re here; we’re the proof. So there has to be one chance instead of zero, you see? Scientists have filled in that blank for us:

Sir Fred Hoyle, a popular agnostic who wrote Evolution from Space (1981), proposed that such odds were one chance in 1040,000 ("the same as the probability that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard could assemble a 747").

Um, okay. That’s reassuring, and from a guy who accepts that it happened.

Harvard University biochemist and Nobel Laureate George Wald apparently agreed:

"One has to only contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet we are here - as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation."

Why? We must assume this not because there is no other answer, but because there is no other acceptable answer. Scientists exclude the supernatural from consideration, literally from the beginning in their assumptions that there are naturalistic explanations for everything that can be tested and verified. That’s fine as an approach, as long as the assumptions are stated. But they're not. The result is that the observable world is attempted to be explained without the disclaimer, stating that all of everything just happened. In fact, those that would point out the disclaimer are ridiculed as simpletons who haven't evolved into this scientific age or religious nuts who want to impose their beliefs on everyone. If this isn't clear enough, in 1995, the National Association of Biology Teachers issued a definition for Evolution:

“The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.”

In short, evolution is proven to the point where the God hypothesis is not needed. They later subtracted the “unsupervised, impersonal” portion to lessen criticism from their intrusion into the theological realm (by positing a denial of same), but, in fact, they were content to do so because an “unpredictable and natural process” was entirely sufficient to state in more scientific terms the same meaning and conclusion.

The moral considerations from whence we came matter.

In the grand scale of things, if we originated from a lucky stroke of sunlight falling on a particular pond with the right soup mix, it doesn’t matter if you steal from your company, cheat on your spouse, or kill your neighbor. Your own morals are arbitrary, and ultimately, you have no right to judge others.

With primordial soup as your maker, it isn’t hard to understand why some people do things that might seem wrong to you. The question you might ask is, why you don’t partake of all the available opportunities you deny yourself? Without morals, you're free to be whatever you want to be. Just because someone else defines right from wrong one way has no significance for anyone else.

Attribute it to a developed sense of self-preservation or a fear of societal punishment systems, but if a person kills an infant, on what basis is that wrong? You can’t stand on any moral position and say that anything someone else has done is wrong. Or good, for that matter. The concept of “dust to dust” is a license to live free of moral constraints because there is no ultimate accountability. There is no ultimate accountability because the lucky strike of sunshine onto earthly muck fails to create an ultimate moral law.

Put your thinking caps on and see if you agree with the following. There are four existential questions that come to a person in life. Where do I come from? What is the nature of good and evil? What is the meaning of life? What is my destiny?

Some, I’m certain, think of the questions but are as quickly distracted by a re-run of Spencer: For Hire. Some may explore and find theological answers to the questions and accept the teachings and implications of a particular faith. Some search for answers and can't find a God that meets their standards, and some find the notion of some ultimate accountability too high a price to pay for more hopeful answers to tough questions. And the rest, like the songwriters for Cloud Cult, I must assume, find some type of comfort in the wisdom of the scientific method and trust in the odds: 1 in 1040,000.

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Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark

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“Gosh Joe Bob. I wish that ace Isbell hadn’t slid outta here with his slide. The boys sharpened their pencils this time, they did, but after a bottle of Jack, darned if I can't remembuh a riff or wash the twang from my mouth.”

Liberally furnished with 19 songs, DBT tries to adapt to life without Jason Isbell, who, when he was introduced to the group, brought the type of magic that Ringo brought to the Beatles, only, with talent. DBT's founders, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, have written great albums, but Isbell added a third voice, slide guitar, and songwriter that helped the band move beyond the predictability of a two-sided coin. As The Who's Pete Townshend said of bassist John Entwistle, the band offered a challenge Isbell couldn't find anywhere else (and as his own solo CD has confirmed). That's quite the compliment for a musician, and the loss of same... hurts.

"Creation's Dark" includes some great lyrics - "The Righteous Path," "Daddy Needs a Drink," "Checkout Time in Vegas," "You "Your Crystal Meth," "Monument Valley" and others speak to either poignant social commentary or more specifically to residents of the South that most of us try to avoid. "Bob" and "Lisa's Birthday" both include Cooley's trademark wry humor, which are always welcome.

So, what's wrong? In addition to four throw away songs by bassist Shonna Tucker, the sound is what is wrong. Replacing Isbell's slide guitar with pedal steel, no matter the reputation of the artist behind it, removes their musical punctuation marks and replaces it with a twangy blandness. This simply feeds the band's (and particularly Cooley's) occasional country tendencies and leaves but a marred remnant of what had become the greatest (current) Southern Rock Band.

I've had friends who have seen the new line-up in concert, who were very praising of what the band has now become. But on CD, where all is clear to the ears, it's an lyrical improvement from their rather lackluster previous release, but the words cry out for better expression.

Suggested Track: "The Righteous Path"

3 Stars


Not my favorite song, but a great video. "Perfect Timing"

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75 degrees, 6%

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I guess I've become soft. Due to another driver in front of me rudely not permitting adequate space for my own vehicle's stopping distance, my car got slightly dinged, and, more importantly, my air-conditioner lost its refrigerant.

Now, I can eat a grape jelly sandwich without peanut butter. I know, I know. This threatens my acceptance amongst civilized people, and I'm not saying that I want to do that. But I can if I must. But as much as peanut butter and jelly are necessarily conjoined, an air conditioner without refrigerant is like a television without electricity. It's all or nothing.

I've mentioned previously my fondness for my 28 mile, 1-1.5 hour commute. When I'm not listening to Frank Sinatra, I sometimes think of strange things to do while sitting in non-rushing traffic. Kids travel games are not beyond me. I can usually spot license plates from at least 7 southeastern States on a given day. I can attempt to find store names beginning with letters A-Z. Thank you, Zaxby's! (and we need more X words...)

Or I might count a ratio between Ford, Chevy, and Dodge pickup trucks. Why would one do such a thing? Once, going to Birmingham, AL the Monday after a NASCAR race at Talladega, the highway became unexpectedly full of campers being pulled by pickup trucks (presumably with sober drivers).

I don't follow NASCAR, but I know brand loyalty is a big deal. Chevy, by the way, gets about 55%, Ford 35%, and Dodge 10%. I guess those HEMI engines cost too much. The same percentages hold true during my commute, though Toyota, Nissan, and other foreign brands that risk defacement at a NASCAR event intrude on the percentages somewhat.

You're probably thinking these types of amusements are in some way related to the reason for my ill-fated air-conditioner. Not true. I only conduct these professional studies when stopped (parked?) at one of many red lights or otherwise stuck in the road for unknown and usually undiscovered reasons. Despite the current state of political discourse and other indications to the contrary, we seem to trust in "the system" when it comes to waiting our turn in traffic. So, I trust, and I take a survey - not all the time, but even Frank Sinatra deserves a day or two off.

While I'll subscribe that global warming might have increased the local temperature 0.001 degree (After all, it's the summer and the South), I'm sure it was basically just as hot when I was growing up as it is today. July heat has always been July heat. I remember riding in the back seat of a station wagon with the windows down (and without a seat belt...who would guess today that I was a child of such reckless forethought?) and those fondly remembered vinyl seats... the kind that you peel your bare back or thighs off of as you exit the vehicle. But sweating was nothing unusual, or, as I remember, anything particularly uncomfortable.

Today, I can break a sweat thinking about mowing the lawn. Well, okay. Maybe not. But I can on a particularly humid day when going to the mailbox. That's sad!

It should be noted that I, um, wisely chose a black vehicle for the extra heat it would provide in the winter, which is, of course, much more beneficial than any possible discomfort that might result from the heat that hangs over Georgia 46 of 52 weeks each year.

Never accept a conclusion without first examining the assumptions. This could be a true thought if the A/C has its refrigerant and is blowing at the driver those 46 weeks. Bend to my logic.

So, it's 8:00 a.m., sitting in traffic (again), 75 degrees. Nice and cool, right? Well, even with windows down, there's rarely a breeze when the traffic isn't moving. The rising sun is doing its job of keeping the earth warmer than the void of space, and it's doing particulary well at localizing it's abundant gift within my car. I'm sweating, and on my way to work. Not good.

What's one to do when stuck in traffic and feeling miserable for one's self? Take a survey!

Despite the general advancement of our society's expectation of comfort, and specifically within our beloved automobiles (how many vehicles are decided against based on the placement and sizing of cup holders?), the results confirm that even in this modern age, people do actually drive with their windows down. Stunning, I know.

From 50 vehicles at two intersections, it works out to 30% with open driver windows. Given the price of gas and the presumed efficiency savings of selecting ambient air, I thought, "wow, people are really hurting. I'm miserably hot, and a fair number are making the sacrifice."

But my keen powers of observation suggest that driving with the windows down is more intentional than, as in my case, compulsory. In a gesture to "always test the assumptions," of the 15 vehicles with windows down, there were none that suggested the driver's economic state was one that prevented a repair. So we move on to what else might be observed.

7 vehicles - pickup trucks with signs indicating construction or other trades. In other words, these are our most climate-hardened citizens that admit it pointless in aiming for a sweat-less day. To be fair, they generally have the cooler of Gatorade on the back of the truck. Bless them.

5 vehicles - drivers somehow missed the Surgeon General's warning label on their pack of cigarettes. The smoke is good enough for their lungs, but not good enough for their cars. I would say, "bless them," but with my windows down, I also was partaking of their pleasure. I respect their right, but I miss my cloistered air supply system all the more.

That leaves 3 vehicles (6% for you statisticians), that drive with their windows down either because they like it or as a concession to the economics of today.

75 degrees. 6%.

I know this reads like I'm a whiner, and I admitted at the beginning that I'm soft. But I'm not alone. I hesitate to think what the price of gasoline would have to be for America to really feel the pinch. Overall, we're a well insulated society and blessed.

Oh, and did I mention how LOUD cars are when the windows are down? Gimme my A/C!

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Aimee Mann - @#%&*! Smilers

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When listening to a new Aimee Mann CD, one should expect several things: cleverly written songs, engaging music, creative packaging (with lyrics), and subject matter that touches on every synonym of disappointment portrayed in context of character studies or relationships. Obviously, she must be good at what she does as those topics would make it difficult to sustain a career.

Beyond the title that suggests cursing at smiling people, her thoughts dwell on those in some way who are down and out. Every day is a rainy day. Some examples:

Imaging people as something they're not in order to find them more likable ("Strangers into Starmen"), avoiding excitement and inspiration ("Looking for Nothing"), an unfaithful lover ("Phoenix"), retreating into the past to avoid future pain ("Borrowing Time"), wasting gifts due to lack of initiative ("It's Over"), dissatisfaction with life to date ("31 Today"), the hopelessness of coming out on top ("The Great Beyond"), people who take and don't give back ("Medicine Wheel"), creating a false reality ("Columbus Avenue"), loving those who hurt you ("True Believer"), and status lost due to alcoholism ("Ballantines").

Plus a few other others, even. Just as Mann's comfort zone seems to fall within these areas, her characters never have the resolve to change, and none of the songs end on a positive note. Instead, they remain judgmental and resigned.

For those that like to sing "You are the Sunshine of My Life," this isn't for you. And those who actually live within the subject matter probably aren't listening to Aimee Mann, bless them. But for the rest, who can appreciate a poet at work within a theme, the settings, situations, and different aspects of disappointment make for thoughtful enjoyment.

Musically, the CD is driven by keyboards, but strings and brass are used tastefully in keeping it a fairly bright listening. The music keeps more than enough pep to keep interest, and, beyond that, the beat and garnishments add a sense to the unavoidable rhythm to life, and in this case, to forthcoming setbacks.

Almost all of the songs have a pithy lyric to reinforce the themes mentioned, but one can summarize for all:

"I thought my life would be different somehow. I thought my life would be better by now. But it's not and I don't know where to turn."

It's difficult to tell whether Aimee Mann lives in the world about which she writes, or whether she's a fascinated observer of human behavior. In either case, whether for her own best interest or for the possible music that might result, I hope Aimee Mann starts hanging out with a different crowd and sees happiness in something.

Suggested Tracks: "Looking for Nothing," "Phoenix"

4 Stars (somehow or another)



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Wanted

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Hmmm, a summer action movie with Angelina Jolie, and my wants to see it. A no-brainer, right? I guess I should be forthcoming and admit that I could be adequately entertained watching Angelina Jolie flip pancakes. In “Wanted,” she doesn’t flip any pancakes, but instead she plays a secret-society assassin who targets victims handed out by a loom of fate. Hey, that’ll do!

But, I wasn’t greatly entertained. The movie begins with a character, Wesley, in circumstances that asks the question, “What are you doing with your life?” Wesley, who is difficult to consider as a protagonist, unfortunately is far more believable as a 9 to 5 loser than the finely honed killing machine that he becomes. Jolie is one of a society who trains Wesley to emerge as someone taking control of his life. I suppose I haven’t lived life fully until I become an assassin as well. Alas.

As for Jolie, I’ve seen her in “Tomb Raider” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” She knows action movies and how to wield a gun while looking both good and capable, but we never really get to know her here. She’s basically window dressing, while we follow the plight of Wesley, who must avenge his father’s death by killing a rogue assassin.

Aside from the unconvincing “Fight Club” development of Wesley, the movie suffers in other areas. Special effects are certainly expected in action movies, and often, they sparkle here. But, it’s an overindulgence to suggest that by swinging your arm while firing a gun that your mind (and/or physics) will cause a bullet to not only bend in its path, but complete a loop. “Myth Busters” tried this with magnets; sorry folks.

Other "over the top" feats are included, but that is almost expected these days. At least “The Matrix” provided a reason for physics to be ignored, but we’re asked to believe that a assassin group borne out of an ancient group of Weavers (yes, textile workers) somehow knows better.

Which brings us back to the loom of fate. As explained, the loom weaves a fabric, and errors in the weave are translated by binary code into letters which spell out the names of would-be targets. This is compelling from an understood sense of “what if’s” that trail behind us.

What if…I had proceeded through the traffic light without looking first? What if…I had accepted that other job offer? What if…I turned left instead of right at the fork in road? And so on. This is the hand of fate, something we all reflect upon at some time in terms of chance or providence. Of course, the loom is also completely absurd. But movies need their plot devices, so let’s yield to the notion.

There is a mystery to it. How does the loom do what it does? Who made the loom? How does the loom translate fate into a discernible code? How was the code revealed? Where was it made known what the response should be to the deciphered code? Even better, how did the loom come to foreknowledge of the moral attributes of those named?

Interesting questions, all of which are completely unanswered in the film. Without completely spelling out the p.l.o.t., the names provided from the loom are revealed to no longer be true to their source, but perverted by human self-interest.

This, in itself, is predictable for Hollywood purposes that require lots of action and a timely conclusion. But, consider that it also runs counter to popular thinking.

An example: DNA is coded information that is rapidly being understood to literally spell out our physical attributes. We’re taught to accept that this code resulted from time + chance (fate?), resulting in my brown hair and blue eyes, amongst other features. The moral component we understand to have evolved on our own after generations of societal constraints and a need for self-preservation. In short, we don’t need an author of the Code, and those that do seek an author are frequently ridiculed.

The fictional loom, however, is accepted to have provided coded information from an unknown and unstated source that had a moral underpinning, at least until it was defiled by human tampering. It’s curious that the movie writers took the “easy” way out, assigning a human author to the Code, rather than fathoming the mystery of fate itself, a credit that resulted in “The Matrix” becoming something more than just another action movie.

To be sure, Hollywood wants their summer blockbusters, and this is enjoyable fun. That said, some conjecture regarding the origins of the loom might have made this something more than a pancake flipping mindless flick.

Oh, and did I mention Angelina Jolie looks good?

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Anthony Phillips - Wise After the Event
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Progressive rock is a genre of music that I have liked, if not preferred, over the years. It was intended to move beyond the standard verse-chorus form of rock music and achieve a higher level of artistic credibility. Musically, it often worked. Gifted musicians were allowed to work in classical and jazz elements while extending the music beyond the 3-4 minutes allowed on radio, while not yielding to unfocused jamming meanderings. The music was intelligently considered and very much structured by the needs for each song. Groups that were successful musically include (early) Genesis, King Crimson, Renaissance, Yes, and to some extent, Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues.

While attempting to elevate the art form, they also invited significant derision by tendencies to take themselves too seriously with abstract or fanciful lyrics and a self-important delivery that undermined their mines. Emerson, Lake & Palmer, anyone?

Genesis is a fine example of that. Many of their early albums include beautiful guitar and keyboard parts, generally accompanied by keen transitions from one section of a song to another. At the same time, their lyrics were void of emotions yet played as if they were grand drama.

Their original guitarist, Anthony Phillips, helped set the musical foundations of the band, but, in 1969, was too tender an age and stage fright necessitated that he leave the group. He continues a a solo artist today with regular releases virtually unheard except by a cult following. These are primarily unaccompanied 12 string guitar and piano pieces that might be considered tasteful elevator music regardless of technical proficiency.

In the transition from where he was to where he is were two distinctive and worthwhile albums. His debut, "The Geese and the Ghost," was an instrumental progressive piece with folk and baroque influences, and was well received for what it was.

In 1978, he released his second album, "Wise After the Event," which is record company demanded to include vocals. Phillips was regarded well enough at the time to warrant a "picture album," where the cover art was printed onto the vinyl. Thirty years later, and in tandem with the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Genesis, this album was remastered and re-released, with a 2nd CD of primarily instrumental demo versions.

Looking back, this album fares as well as or better
than anything released by his original band, which by comparison sounds dated compared with this timeless work. Phillips chordal electric twelve string, piano, and solos drive the music where it needs to go, and the accompanying musicians keep it interesting by contributing what is needed for each piece, rather than attempting to draw attention, or, contrarily, just provide the expected. With additions of sax, flute, oboe and harp, there's variety and much to be appreciated in the music.

The weak spot for progressive music, the lyrics, isn't necessarily overcome here. Rather than abstract, Phillips tends towards the comical or absurd. From "We're all as we Lie":

Daphne lay beside the Silent Pool,
When suddenly the air began to cool
Otto heard it, running back, and tried to stop the thudding crack
As Luther strode up, crying "Winter Rules".
"Holy Mackerel", cried the Papal Prince,
"you're out of bounds I'm really quite convinced".
Luther drew his driver but the Pope pulled out a fiver
And they halved the hole on points of sacraments

That's not exactly the stuff people walk around singing to themselves, even on a golf course. Yet he is also capable of writing lyrics of more intensity. From "Regrets":

Pulling out while the doubts loom above me
Shouting out in the dark for you to love me
Cutting life from the hopes of an outstretched hand
Regrets, our secret cemeteries,
Where loves and loss are silently lain,
The dream is fading faster now,
And soon you'll skip beyond my recall

Added to the mix is one of the best album covers ever, as Robert Cross used the lyrics from the songs to construct fanciful, intricate, and humorous cover art - with squirrels, astronauts, bears, golf balls, seals, and others placed (and often hidden) in a "Moonscape," also a title of one of the songs. The original album had only one disc, but it opened allowing for fairly expansive artwork within, as well.


As Phillips and others remark in the included commentary on the CD, the vocals were the biggest challenge. Phillips has what at best might be described an average voice, and his lack of confidence was a battle through the recording. While his label's insistence that he sing is curious, what results is a charming tone over a very sophisticated musical work . And that's a rarity for progressive rock.

The bonus disk (which is often understood to include junk that is no bonus at all), can fairly be viewed as an instrumental version of the album, without some of the overdubs. This is quite enjoyable as well, and, no doubt, is a gesture towards his fans who favor his instrumental talents.

The CD remastering is exceptional, and "Wise After the Event" is highly recommended for fans of the genre or even with a curious ear.

Suggested Tracks: All of them together; they work as a whole.

5 Stars (some credit given for the cover art).

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Something Old, Something New

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By chance, I happened to read a newspaper (the paper kind, not the virtual kind), and saw that Cheerwine has been introduced to the Atlanta market. I remember going to a church camp around 7th grade in North Carolina, and during "free time," finding a vending machine that had the usual known options, plus Cheerwine. (Orange Crush was one of the standard offerings at the time - a brand which has largely retreated to Canada.)

Anyway, the name "Cheerwine" speaks of a certain je ne sais pas to a 12 year old. Clearly, there's no immediate objections to "cheer," but parents might object to the "wine." Hey, this must be good stuff! And at a church camp!

Cheerwine is basically a cherry flavored cola, more to the flavor of a regular Coca-Cola when spiked with grenadine syrup, but it is definitely not a Cherry Coke. Sorry campers, no alcohol.

Almost 30 years later, the story repeats. Sorry Mr. Publix check-out guy, no alcohol. He, too, thought it was an adult beverage, and I guess that's a part of what keeps a regional, non-mega corporate soft drink in business. Is it great? No. Is it different? Thankfully, yes.

(Note to those from other regions. In the south, all soft drinks can be collectively called "Cokes." You might enter a store, and ask, "Where's your Cokes?" and be pointed towards the coolers, vending machines, or fountain drinks where sustenance can be found. You may by regional preference refer to these as "Pop," "Soda," "Sodapop," "Cola," or even "carbonated beverage" if you're tightly wound. We typically call them "soft drinks," and if it sounds confusing, it's okay. We know what we're talking about.)

Moving chemically from CO2 to -OH groups, we arrive from a wine of sorts to beer. I don't love beer. But I like "having a brewski" now and then. My wife? Well, she likes beer breath, at least. I'm not going to argue.

One thing about beers I've learned is that if I can't see through it, I'm not going to like it. And, while there are a fair number of adequate beers, there are few that I actually enjoy, and those that I do prefer are probably looked down upon by the beer guzzling masses who have more chest hair than I. Such things I keep in perspective. Wine connoisseurs are thumbing their noses at all of us. I'll live.

For many years, I never kept beer in the house. This was not due to a moral objection or a fear of my kids accidentally seeing Dad have a sip. I just didn't like it enough to have it around and viewed it more of a social beverage. This was something typically consumed either at dinner (at company expense) or at a sporting event. Go Team.

I'm now bringing beer into the house. No, I haven't fallen into a habit of a high blood alcohol content. But I do know where to place the blame, if some exists. HDTV. Yes, you read it right. HDTV. It's like being there. Autumn, college football, and High-def ESPN... How can there not be a beer in the house? Yep, the glorious hyper pixelation of the gridiron must be the cause.

But which one to bring home? There are a lot of beers out there to be sampled. I've tried enough that I can recognize a safe choice... Bass, Killian's, Sierra Nevada, Newcastle, IceHouse... But it seems almost an obligation to try something different when the occasion presents itself, whether from a micro-brewery or imported from some far land.

In any case, the topical "Something New" is a beer from Atlanta Brewing Company who offer a series of "Red Brick" branded beers, and particularly the one named "Blonde." I'll add that this preference is completely unrelated to my mom's desire that I seek a wife like the Ms. America who advertised PET Milk on TV many, many years ago. You can guess the hair color.

While I admit I lack much technical knowledge of the brewing process, I feel qualified to say that it's flavorful as it goes down, and the memory is pleasantly distinct. Quite the verbose recommendation, I know. But I'll be stocking this in the fridge for those perfect occasions when I have a buddy over, or, heaven forbid, when I drink a beer... alone.

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