Noah (2014)

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I went to see Noah with an open mind.  Or, I didn’t go with a closed mind.  More specifically, I didn’t go with any expectation of a tale consistent with Jewish/Christian writ.  Oh, and Warning: Plot spoilers.

That’s a good thing, because, like seemingly so many other Christians, I could be shouting to the heavens about the biblical abomination that noah-movie-poster1Noah’s story, as told here, is.  If you want to enjoy the movie, simply don’t approach it biblically.

There’s some good reasons.

Russell Crowe doesn’t appear anywhere close to being 950 years old.  The movie has dialogue; Noah doesn’t say a word in the Bible/Pentateuch.  The movie clocks in at over 2 hours.  It takes two minutes to read the biblical account.  “The Watchers,” fallen angels that have become the stone versions of The Lord of the Ring’s Ents, are inexplicable, other than a mention of “there were giants in the earth in those days.” (Gen 6:4).  And, so it goes.

Lighten up folks.  Noah is only a slight step above Avatar for its reach in moralistic perspective.  If you want your theology served straight, then don’t entrust it to a secular industry desiring to make a buck.  Or to make other points.

Here, we find that Noah, bless him and his generations that follow (like you and me), is a vegetarian who espouses the enviro-friendly view that we should take only what we need for each day.  Sounds noble and good, yes?  

We find that God The Creator is the one who set the heavens and earth in motion to position The Garden in all of its divinely ordained splendor and... who likely regretted creating Man.  That would be the Cain type man who razed the land in an eco-travesty one might not think possible for people essentially of the Middle Ages industrial skills.  But apparently it is so.   There’s barren land in abundance.

I struggled with King Tubal-Cain.  Not so much from the character he played, but because of the quality of the acting.  I didn’t know Mickey Rourke could act so well!  Only, it was Ray Winstone in the part.  Oops.

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Honest mistake.  Val Kilmer maybe?
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Well, it’s not that any actor could have played the part.  It’s more that any man has a part of Tubal-Cain in him.

So, a few observations.

1)  Many will climb to their highest pedestals and point at Noah and decry how people of faith are simple minded, blindly led and are dangerous to others.   They’re not tolerant and get a bit fussy when told they’re intolerant.  You know the types.  They clearly see that Noah’s conviction and obedience are evil, despite whatever evidence there may be that he’s established an upright life for himself and his family.   They will also blithely ignore that the more free-willed population are raping and murdering (people, that is.  Yeah, yeah, the environment, too.)  Simply stated, some will see this movie as an indictment on people of faith, regardless of the result.

2)  There will be some measure of Emma Watson/Harry Potter FanGeeks who will be delighted to find that she is the mother of mankind, in the rebooted population pool of the post-diluvian world.   Yes, geeks, you now have some of Emma in your blood. 

3) Some will walk away from this film thinking that man deserves this fate, but not because of anything concerning a Creator who judges, but rather our defiling of Mother Earth.  We’ve polluted the world, and and a flood of Biblical proportions would be a suitable reboot.  And, they will, of course, have missed the point.  Good and evil, morality, the nature of man... this is the tension in the story, not the particular outworking of man’s actions (the environment in this case).  In Noah’s crisis of decision regarding repopulating the soggy world, he’s not debating the future defilement of nature, but the imperfection of man. 
I haven’t been able to find the quote, but near the end, Tubal-Cain asks something similar to this:  “Are we men of the heavens?  Or are we men of will?” 

Tubal-Cain is earlier much more direct about (free) will: “We are orphaned children in this world, cursed to struggle by the sweat of our brow.  Damned if I don’t do whatever it takes to do just that.”  Welcome to humanism.  It’s not a fair leap to say that Noah, and by proxy “The Creator,” was judging exactly that.

4) If you pick your spots in the arc of the story, you’ll find a thread:
Man acts adverse to his creator’s will.  Prophecies are made concerning judgment on man.  The prophecy is fulfilled, and mankind is judged. 

Hello, flood.

But, the creator is loving, and though not expressed from the On High perspective, mercy is the story of Noah’s decision, despite the rough casting of a man who agrees that man deserves judgement. The creator allows a faithful man and his family to survive.  A remnant.  That’s biblical.

My friend jokingly referred to the sequel as Sodom and Gomorrah.  It’s not really needed.  The next chapters are in the daily news.  As the movie expresses, “Wickedness is not just in them, it’s in all of us.”   Noah isn’t a biblical movie, but at its core, it confirms the nature of sin, a falling short of the mark, and begs a moment’s pause to consider ultimate accountability.  And that’s a good thing for people to at least talk about.

Oh, and wait for the DVD rental or Netflix.  The movie’s okay, but it’s not worth $10.
3 of 5 STARS

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The Life I Never Lived

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Recently, I decided to venture out on my own to see a friend who plays in a local blues band, called Men in Blues.  It happened to be the Friday before St. Patrick’s Day, and at an Irish Pub, Mac McGees.  It was truly coincidental that this was the evening I chose, largely because it was nearby.

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The evening started a bit slowly, and the band, 3/5 of their personnel and squeezed into a postage stamp, started playing as the place began to fill for the post-dinner hours.  I enjoyed the music, particularly the blues songs, which were surprisingly few among the cover songs.

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What was left then, aside from a couple of Sweetwater pale ale’s, was the people watching.  The place became busy, then busier.  And it occurred to me that, among the old people, the middle aged, and the young, that I’m extremely grateful not to be part of the Friday night bar scene.

Maybe I’m too judgmental about people seemingly having a good time, but it wasn’t a gathering of people grouped to enjoy conversation, food and beverage, and tunes.   It was, instead, the seeking of acceptance from the opposite gender, the posturing of affection, and the effusive cries for attention.

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A phrase that goes around is that “single people dream of being married; married people dream of being single.”   Nah.  Not me.  I’m not old, yet, but I’m mature.

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U.S. Cafe

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I’ve been gradually going to burger places around Atlanta because I like burgers, obviously, but also because I keep hoping to find an even better burger.   Helpfully, the web is full of Top Anything lists, so the best burgers around Atlanta have been identified and it’s a fairly finite universe.  I’ll probably write my own summary, but... not today.

Featured frequently on others’ lists is the ingloriously named U.S. Cafe.

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The South Cobb location (one of three) is located in a small, easily ignored shopping center, but it’s rather spacious inside.  It’s not a dump and it doesn’t strive for ambience.  But there is a sort of homey feel, and there’s a side room with two large screen TV’s.  That said, the space isn’t particularly well thought out.  A man using the urinal is right in the line of a table outside the restroom door when it is opened. 

When you order, they apparently presume you want it “medium” because they don’t ask.  They’re well known for using fresh Black Angus Ground Chuck

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The food was prepared fairly quickly.  They curiously chose an employee with a limited command of English to butcher the pronunciation of patron names.  It was almost funny, but also difficult to hear.

There were four of us, each with slight variations... different sized patties, no onions, that kind of thing.   How difficult can a burger be?  Well, three of the four of us got orders that were wrong.  And this place has been in business for 25 years?

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Despite all that, the patty was tasty and wasn’t oversaturated with fat.  The fries were better than average also.  If I’m in the area, I’d try it again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way as I did for this visit.   I’d also happily try one of their other two locations hoping for a better result in accuracy, vibe, and customer service.  It was a fine burger, one that is better than the fast food joints and the fancy restaurants that offer burgers as an afterthought.  But, the search continues because I know better is still out there.

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I usually past in a graphic of 1-5 Stars, but this wasn’t worthy of 4 Stars, and, the burger, at least, was better than 3 Stars.  I guess I need to do more graphics work, but this is the first time I’ve struggled with a rating.  I’ll go strictly numerical with a 3.4 rating.

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Al Stewart – Live at Eddie’s Attic

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I received an alert from Songkick, a smartphone app that informs the user about concerts from artists on in your music library, that Al Stewart was going to play at Eddie’s Attic.  That was in 2013, and I was disappointed when I never saw it confirmed.  I hadn’t thought much of seeing Al Stewart in concert, but was intrigued.  And that’s odd, because I was only a casual fan of the few singles he had when I started listening to music, “Year of tuntitled-56-4he Cat” and “Time Passages.”

It’s curious that as I explored music in great volume in the late 70’s that I never picked up his albums.  Still...

So here it is in 2014, and I once again see that ‘s scheduled in 2014.  With another couple, we ventured to Atlanta’s best intimate, acoustic (artists can play electric also) performance environment.

“Intimate” means small, here with 165 maximum occupancy.  “Intimate” also means that if you want a reserved table, best not linger.  I lingered.  After a maddening 2 hour commute from the north side of Atlanta, all the bar stools were taken as well.

So, we settled for dinner on their roof deck.  This was better than average bar food.  Also, the opening act music was piped in via speakers, and those seated at the bar could watch a closed circuit video of the stage – a good way to enjoy a show if it’s sold out or you’re cheap, I suppose.

We entered and found ourselves standing almost literally at the back, which isn’t that far away at all.

Dave Nachmanoff was co-listed on the bill.  Dave has been Stewart’s right hand man for a good number of years handling all of the lead guitar work.  He breezed through several of his own songs, then Al Stewart came on stage.

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I’m not sure what I expected, but this show was a winner through and through.  Stewart’s voice is in the higher registers and hasn’t diminished a bit since his heyday. 

Secondly, I’ve listened to some of Stewarts catalog since the concert.  It’s enjoyable, but for the most part, acoustic presentations play to his strengths.  For one, there’s plenty of room for his voice to be heard, but the music also benefits the lyrics, especially as...

... and thirdly, Dave N. can really add color to songs.  He played a wide variety of styles that suited the evening perfectly.

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Fourthly, and spellcheck says that’s a word, if you were to imagine an intimate performance with an artist, you might expect an up close, eyes on eyes, kind of thing.  That’s part of it.  But some artists don’t want to relate.  They just want to play their songs, hope you enjoy them, and collect a check.  Stewart engaged the audience before every song, usually telling a story about all sorts of things, occasionally followed by a “none of that is in the song.”  In any case, there was ample warmth and approachability.

Fifthly, he took requests.  Or, maybe he was planning on singing them anyway, but it seemed of the moment.

Sixthly, he is apparently open to others joining him on stage (with some pre-arrangement).  A local bassist and then a saxophonist joined him for a few songs, the latter amply benefitting “Year of the Cat.”  In his self professed  historical folk rock profession, inviting others to play is the norm.

And, lastly, he hangs around for autographs and, again, engages with each person unhurriedly.  As entertainers go, that makes him a pretty cool guy.

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I’ll probably catch every show he puts on locally in years to come.  For those who like to hear music without losing their hearing, it’s hard to imagine a better show than this.

5 of 5 STARS

 

 

Songs I’m pretty sure he played (there were others):

House of Clocks
The Palace of Versailles
Elvis at the Wheel
Night Train to Munich
Katherine of Oregon
Antartica (very humorous intro)
Last Days of the Century
If it Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It
Broadway Hotel
On the Border
Year of the Cat

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Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans

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Twelve albums into their career, and DBT seems to be a band that just can’t hit on all of its cylinders.  Gone is guitarist John Neff, who didn’t contribute to the songwriting, but he was at least a third option for some lead guitar.

That matters.

Fans such as myself who look back to Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day, and The DIrty South remember a band that took its shots, at all that is wrong with the world lyrically but often enough with a musical punch to the face.  They possessed an odd space of literate socialhomepage_large.3542898f commentary on the southern man while working it into southern anthemic rock.

Lately, it’s been... mature.

Mike Cooley deserves most of the credit on English Oceans, their latest.  He, by his own admission, hit a rut the past several years, and his song narratives ventured as narrowly as his one trick pony song delivery.  Call it a country song, or sometimes a rock song, but they sounded too much the same. 

This time, he’s about his wits again, and touches on the usual rants on life (“Sh*t Shots Count”), the circle of life when a man’s daughter marries (“Primer Coat”), the mistakes of others (“Hearing Jimmy Loud”), and the passing of time and romance (“Natural Light,” “First Air of Autumn”).

A few lyrical keepers (from different songs):

She had a tanning habit,
She’s like a talking leather couch
Warm between the cushions where she hid whatever treasure fell out

Memory only shows the promise beauty broke
of beauty ageless in its time
Light attracts the same, you glance away and the glory fades
and being on your arm has lost its shine

Suburban four lanes move like blood through an old mans dying heart
Enough at a time to keep hope alive at the speed of a stream of tar
He bought in young and I’ve no doubt, he’s gonna cash out with a winning hand
Trophy tail wives taking boner pill rides for the price of a happy meal

Patterson Hood, the other founder/cowriter of the group, returns with his usual assortment of narratives, generally listless but at least more abbreviated than in recent years.  It’s not bad, but nothing blows you away, either.  “When Walter Went Crazy,” as well stated as it is, sounds like something he wrote about 8 years ago and every year since.

To give the band some credit, there is a somewhat new vibe to be found.  Most of Cooley’s songs, particularly, benefit from being sung and adorned in different ways that make them refreshing.  That said, this CD sounds like a band focused on its songwriting but forgetful of their sound.

Fans will find some favorites, but after half a dozen listens, there’s not a single song that comes to mind for a memorable riff.  And lead guitar?  Well, there’s a lot of electric wailing, but there’s nothing with a worthwhile shape or form.   Simply, there’s nothing musically that captures the listener’s attention, never mind emotion.  And this is a shame, because the song writing is a notch above their last few releases. 

That said, organist Jay Gonzalez, who is heard on their CDs as much as he is in concert (almost never), finds a happy place on the mixing boards on tracks 8-10.  It’s not the sound for which most DBT fans will hope, but I suppose it’s appropriate for a band that seems intent not only to comment on the passing of time but playing it so that it doesn’t hurt old folks’ ears.

3 of 5 STARS

 

 

Recommended Songs: “Primer Coat” and “First Air of Autumn”

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Spartan Sprint 2014 – Georgia

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I enjoy “mud runs.”  They remind me of the way I used to play when I was a kid.  Only, I never quite played like this.  Mud runs can be the ultimate playground, but they aren’t always depending on the organizer.

The Georgia Spartan Sprint, aside from Reebok’s backing, was extremely well built and staffed.  Of course, it should be well hosted, as it’s not an inexpensive outing after admission, insurance, parking, and baggage storage fees.  Oh, and spectator fees as well.  Sheesh.   That said, it was a pleasant surprise not to have to pay for photos they took at several obstacles.

Still, it was also fun and challenging enough for a moderately in-shape adult to feel a sense of accomplishment the day of and to feel sore the days after.

And, I’ve got to say, It was also fun as daddy/daughter adventure.

The Spartan Sprint was held at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, GA.  It was one of the few beautiful days we’ve had this winter, warm enough and with a cool breeze in the right places.

Parking was organized, but the walk to the event was about a mile.  It shouldn’t be a problem for people about to wear themselves out, right?  Right.  It’s not as much fun afterwards.

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Below is the entrance, which has an “obstacle” – one of the playground type experiences found in the 4.5 mile course – which passes overhead.  The ground was particularly muddy, and appropriate welcome for runners but less welcome to those just watching.

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We arrived just before our wave launched.  Around 200 start every 15 minutes, and 4000 raced that day, plus almost as many the next day.

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One difference in this race was that I was wearing a GoPro video camera that a friend loaned to me for the occasion.  Spectators can make it to a certain number of obstacles, but there’s a lot on the trail that is unobserved.  I’ve posted a YouTube video at the end of this post.  The resolution is significantly compromised when uploaded from what the camera recorded.  However, I was also able to retrieve some pictures from the video. 

One obstacle was carrying perhaps a 30 lb. bag of sand a few hundred yards.  The “spring” is still a measure of endurance, and it’s moments like the below that inspire a “yes, I can” attitude.  The fellow is a double leg amputee, doing the course on his hands.  The two behind him are a support team.  Pretty amazing.

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The Spartan Sprint didn’t give any clues as to what types of obstacles would be included.  You come to expect certain things, like lots of mud.  The hill below, though, was a fun surprise.  There was an option to take a longer path around but... why?

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The view from the top:

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This was another fun one.  Stick the spear in the straw body, and off you go.  We only got one chance, and I nailed the guy in the head.  That doesn’t count, however, so 30 burpees was the penalty.  Ugh.

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Again, bags of sand, this time to be raised on a pulley system.  Maybe 30 lbs; ladies had lighter weights on the opposite side.

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They had quite a number of vertical walls to pass over, from 5’ to 8’.  At least they were sturdy and splinter free.

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The equivalent of rock climbing.  Fail.  More burpees.

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These can be difficult due to wet ropes, slippery boards and grasping the top.

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The park has nice trails, and apparently one of us said something funny.

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And then there’s the mud.  This is muddy, but it’s not the mud finale.

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This is the mud finale.  About 50 yards of little moguls, with plenty of mud in the ditches.  The trench I’m about to enter here was the half way point, though that was not obvious until you went under the spectator bridge. 

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Aha.  50 more yards to go.

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Jump, Jackie, jump!

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Maybe these “gladiator” guys took it easy on her... since she ran around them.  The finish line was just beyond.

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No flying leap picture for me.

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Maybe I should have run around them, too.

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Nothing like crossing the finish line and being handed a banana and a drink.  Maybe after my hands are clean, please?  You can see the muddied over GoPro camera on my chest beside the medal.  It can’t see through mud, surprise surprise.

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After an extremely cold hosing from water from the hydrant system (though in abundant supply), we’re in a hurry to go to the changing tents, which were absolutely filthy, but heated.  All is forgiven.

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Somewhat cleaned up, and ready for the mile hike back to the car.  And a burger.

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Thanks to Brian and Lance for taking pictures!  The full set is posted on Flickr.

And, if you have 30 minutes...

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