Solo: A Star Wars Story Movie Review

An attempt to rehabilitate a reluctant hero

An attempt to rehabilitate a reluctant hero

Solo: A Star Wars Story 
Director Ron Howard 
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, and Donald Glover
Writers Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan

I finally watched Han Solo’s origin story. I really liked it. I saw it as an attempt to rehabilitate the reluctant hero Han of the original Star Wars.

I don’t say that lightly. The poor box office for Solo was widely interpreted as a failure of a Star Wars movie starring a white man, but there is a counter-narrative that the failure of Solo was really a delayed reaction to the identitarian overreach of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

In a cruel twist of fate, it turned out that Hilary’s avatar lost too.

In a cruel twist of fate, it turned out that Hilary’s avatar lost too.

With my Straussian hat on, I’m starting to lean towards the latter interpretation. Aside from Chuck Wendig’s lackluster novels, the recent entries in the new Disney Star Wars canon have been subtly reactionary while checking all of the proper boxes. Rogue One was a carefully crafted homage to the original Star Wars that was in fact more Star Wars than Star Wars. It filled in the plot holes of the original movie, while also honoring it. On the other hand, it was the love story of a father for his daughter, full of regrets for the life of hardship he had bequeathed to her. On the gripping hand, it was also about the unsentimental hard-asses the Rebellion was full of in order to win.

Star Wars Rebels turned into the way Disney rehabilitated the most popular character in the Extended Universe. A character who is as unforgiving as any Roman general.

Thrawn is where justice meets mercy and crushes it unsentimentally

Thrawn is where justice meets mercy and crushes it unsentimentally

Solo is the least woke Star Wars movie of this decade. Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is a tragic hero, compromised by her own cooperation in evil. L3-37, the droid revolutionary, is played for laughs, Lando is a cheater. Only Han [and Chewie, neglected hero of the Rebellion] comes out well.

In part, that is because he is still young and naive. I can see a plausible character arc, in which Han, as he gets more experienced and more jaded, finally finds out that cowardice and betrayal really does pay off, à la Woody Harrelson’s Beckett. Which isn’t quite what happened in Episode Seven, which involved a remarkable feat of self-sacrificial love, but is close enough in spirit to generate hard feelings in fans.

To be fair, Harrison Ford wanted out, so they wrote him an out. I can just imagine a different way to play it all out, since I was deep into the Extended Universe from the beginning. This is not the EU, but I think Ron Howard and the Kasdans, father and son, did pretty well, given what they had to work with.

I’m sorry Solo didn’t do that well at the box office, I think it deserves a second look [or a first] from Star Wars fans who feel betrayed. Also, props to whomever retconned in the West End Games attempt to make sense of the twelve parsecs line. I always kind of liked that explanation.

My other movie reviews

The Art of Coco Book Review

All images Copyright ©Disney Enterprises Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios 2017

All images Copyright ©Disney Enterprises Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios 2017

Foreword by John Lasseter, Introduction by Lee Unkrich, Introduction by Adrian Molina, Acknowledgements by Darla K. Anderson
160 pages
ISBN 978-1452156439

I received this book for free as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.

Getting art books in the mail is fun. Getting beautiful books designed by Pixar about a gorgeous movie is even more fun. Coco is a very sweet movie, and I enjoyed watching it with my family. This book is about the creative process at Pixar, and we get to see concept art, clay models, sketches, and reference photos used to create the movie, along with some fun tidbits about the artists and their inspirations.


As with most such books, it will likely appeal to fans of the movie, but this was a cute movie, so why not? Beauty is good for your soul.

My other book reviews

The Art of Coco
Chronicle Books

The Long View 2006-01-01: Notes on 2006

John makes some predictions for 2006 here, which makes it easy to assess his track record:

  • I don't recall whether anyone noted the 100th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt's letter to the GPO on spelling. I'm guessing the answer is no.
  • Iraq War veterans weren't hugely in demand as political candidates. Weirdly, in 2017, a lot of power in President Trump's cabinet has gone to generals from that war, but it sure wasn't true in 2006.
  • Iran has ended up dominating Iraq after the Iraq War. John did not guess correctly that some deal about Iranian nuclear programs would be made: he was probably unduly influenced by fools like Michael Ledeen.
  • A number of movies I really liked came out in 2006. Cars. Idiocracy. 300. The Devil Wears Prada
  • The end of 2005/beginning of 2006 wasn't a good year for John's track record. Previous years weren't quite so bad.

Notes on 2006


I strongly believe in prescience in all its forms. I also believe that it's pretty useless: even if you are right about some future event, you will almost certainly be wrong about what it will mean at the time it happens or how important it will be. With that in mind, let us proceed to a short list of observations and predictions for the coming year:

Yes, the presidential election of 2006 does start this year, in the sense that by year's end we will know who the contenders for the party primaries will be. The names that most frequently come up are the US Senators Hillary Clinton (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican); and look: there are polls of the "whom would you vote for today" variety. McCain beats every Democratic opponent if he is the Republican candidate. More interesting, perhaps, is what happens if Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, the current president's brother, is the Republican candidate, and McCain runs as an independent:

ALL voters: 
Bush-18 Clinton-34 McCain-40 Unsure-07

Bush-00 Clinton-64 McCain-28 Unsure-8

Bush-07 Clinton-34 McCain-47 Unsure-12

Bush-40 Clinton-08 McCain-49 Unsure-03

Polls at this point are worse than useless. Jeb Bush is almost certainly not going to run, for one thing; maybe none of these people will be on the ballot in 2008. Nonetheless, I mention these numbers now because the hypothesis of an independent bid by Senator McCain is closely connected to how poorly the Republicans do in the congressional election of 2006. If they lose both Houses of Congress, then the business & evangelical coalition that has controlled the party for the past two election cycles will be in such disarray that McCain could be nominated almost by default. On the other hand, if the Republicans limit their losses, then the establishment will be able to turn aside his candidacy one last time. I suspect that the Republicans will lose control of the House of Representatives; that will not be enough to cause panic.

In that case, an independent run by McCain is a real possibility. It might segue out of another lost bid by McCain for the Republican nomination, in a way closely parallel to Theodore Roosevelt's third-party run on the Progressive ticket in 1912.

Historically, third-party candidates have been spoilers: H. Ross Perot, for instance, was probably why the first President Bush was not reelected. McCain, in contrast, might actually be elected. After the Clinton impeachment and the Electoral College decision in 2000, anything seems possible.

* * *

Speaking of Theodore Roosevelt, 2006 is the 100th anniversary of his famous Executive Order that tried to institute a minor reform of English spelling, or at least of the spelling used by the Government Printing Office. I am informed by knowledgeable members of the Spelling Reform Hierarchy (hey, Joe!) that we can expect the press to take notice of this anniversary, particularly because it falls in August, when newspapers are not overburdened with pressing news. You read it first here.

* * *

There will be superlative natural disasters in 2006, of course, perhaps even some big enough to knock spelling reform off the front pages. However, as you may have noticed, disasters seem to become more costly in lives and money every year. This is not because the atmosphere is behaving in an unprecedented fashion but because there are more people and more infrastructure to injure. The absolute amount of damage goes up; the relative social cost goes down. We can expect this pattern to continue until at least the last quarter of this century, when the population of the world will begin its centuries-long decline

* * *

The parties will bid for veterans of the Iraq War as candidates, something that is already happening in a small way. That will be the political significance of the military for the near future: not as a new, mass voting block, but as a source (one of several, of course) of the future political class. There should be just enough such candidates this year to attract passing notice In future elections, we can expect the trend to become prominent.

The Republicans will be better positioned, initially, to benefit from the trend. However, the Democratic Party will, in the long run, find its policy positions changing in order to accommodate the new source of electable candidates.

* * *

Hostility to Iran will become the first settled foreign policy of the new Iraqi government. This will be because of the conflict between the centers of Shia learning in Iran and Iraq. The model here is the enmity that developed between the Soviet Union and China during the 1950s, and even sooner between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The latter relationship made Yugoslavia, a Communist country, a de facto American ally through most of the Cold War.

The really interesting question about Iran is whether it will be forcibly relieved of its nuclear-weapons potential. No one is talking about invading Iran, but the sites in question could not simply be bombed. This is difficult at all levels, not least the legal one: Baathist Iraq in 2003 was in violation of the armistice that had saved the regime in 1991; there is no comparable rationale for action against Iran. So, if the attack happens, someone must devise an incomparable rationale.

* * *

There will be no good movies in 2006. Just look here at the upcoming releases. I look forward to Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, about ancient Mezoamerica, but the attraction is Science, not Art. There is small hope for the film version of The Da Vinci Code, I suspect. The story is no stupider than that of any other find-the-object thriller. However, from what I gather, the book is not easily filmable. Moreover, the protagonists will be doing things that outrage their audience's religious sensibilities, which means the screenwriters must have found it difficult to make those characters sympathetic.

Among the sequels, only Sin City 2 raises high hopes. There will be many remakes. The Incredible Shrinking Man will be redone as a Wayans comedy. That makes a certain amount of sense, since special-effects technology have improved greatly since the 1950s original. (As a comedy, though, it must match Lily Tomlin's Incredible Shrinking Woman.) On the other hand, I see that someone is remaking The Omen. This is probably a mistake: the original worked because the director had the sense to be sparing of special effects. The decapitation of David Warren, discerning critics agree, was tastefully done, and almost the only gore in the film.

I see there is going to be another Indiana Jones movie, but it will probably not premier until next year. Alas.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2017-07-22

The myth of drug expiration dates

This article strikes me as rather unfair, since both the FDA and pharmaceutical manufacturers get blamed for expiration dates, but the requirement to throw away drugs after their expiration date comes from legislative bodies and the Joint Commission that provides accreditation to hospitals.

In Switzerland, You Can Be Denied Citizenship for Being Too Annoying

And rightly so, in this case.

Neill Blomkamp, the expatriate South African director of immigration allegories District 9 and Elysium, has a series of short movies on Youtube and Steam. Viewer beware, but these are pretty awesome!

And here is the trailer for Spielberg's adaption of Ernest Cline's book Ready Player One.

The Long View 2005-05-16: Culture: High, Low, & Holy

By Source, Fair use,

By Source, Fair use,

I remember the hot take in 2005 was that Episode III was a brave blow against W's imperialism. Does anyone still care, in light of how much the movie has been panned?

Looking at the data, I'm a little surprised at how well Episode III reviews:

It was more popular with critics than fans, but top critics, as defined by Rotten Tomatoes, were far more critical:

I liked the animated series The Clone Wars far better, put out by Lucasfilm between 2008 and 2014. It kept the space opera feel, but managed to make Anakin Skywalker a likeable human being, which is more than the two movies released about the same time could do. It also filled in a bunch of gaps in the storyline and created a whole set of memorable characters. 

The nerds at IMDB seem to agree with me, ranking the animated series higher than the movie.

Culture: High, Low, & Holy


One suspects that the most interesting thing about the latest and last Star Wars movie, The Revenge of the Sith, is that many people have chosen to see it as an attack on American imperialism in general and the Bush Administration in particular. For instance, A. O. Scott of the New York Times praises the film to the skies, saying that it is even better than the first Star Wars film. He says this about its political content:

"This is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause," Padmé observes as senators, their fears and dreams of glory deftly manipulated by Palpatine, vote to give him sweeping new powers. "Revenge of the Sith" is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power. Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy." Obi-Wan's response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes." You may applaud this editorializing, or you may find it overwrought, but give Mr. Lucas his due. For decades he has been blamed (unjustly) for helping to lead American movies away from their early-70's engagement with political matters, and he deserves credit for trying to bring them back.

Meanwhile, the reviewer at The Weekly Standard, which would be the flagship of the pro-Palpatine press if you accept the interpretation of the Times, was less pleased. John Podhoretz ends the first paragraph thus:

The tale of woe it really tells is that of George Lucas himself, the final chapter in the sad degeneration of a vital, vivid, and highly amusing moviemaker into a dull, solipsistic, and humorless incompetent.

Then he gets nasty, but not about politics:

Lucas had more than a quarter of a century to figure out why Anakin Skywalker went bad. And here's what he came up with: Anakin is afraid of losing his wife Padmé in childbirth...The president tells him about the Dark Side of the Force, and how it can be used to bring people back from the dead. Anakin decides he wants in...Back in 1977, we were told in the original Star Wars that Darth Vader "was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force"...But the Darth Vader we see at the end of Revenge of the Sith hasn't been seduced. He's been tricked. He's not a villain. He's a schmuck.

If this is politics, it's more fun than the Senate filibuster, since researching it will involve tasty popcorn.

* * *

Meanwhile, that Spengler at Asia Times persists in offering Benedict XVI musical advice. In his latest, Why the beautiful is not the good, Spengler applauds the apparent eagerness of the the new pope to take the path not traveled, to embrace the late Baroque and even Romantic musical styles against which the Church in the 19th century set its face:

Benedict hopes for "a sacred music [that] bequeaths joy and a higher type of ecstasy which does not extinguish personality, but unites and thus liberates", and for musicians who "will ask: how can that be accomplished?"

The path that the Church did attempt to take, the revival of chant, was objectionable on several levels:

When it turned upon the artists of the 18th-century classic, the Church set in motion a tragedy with frightful consequences. Rejecting the operatic style in sacred music, the Church as a corrective reached back to the plainchant of the low Middle Ages. Its musical doctrine formed part of a broader effort to recreate a tranquil Age of Faith undisturbed by the storms of secular modernism. But no such age ever had existed, and the plainchant of the 19th century was not a revival but a fabrication. The modernists merely proposed to invent the future, but the Church did worse: it invented the past.

To that I might say that the music of Solesmes may be no more medieval than the Houses of Parliament, but there is such a thing as good Gothic Revival.

Be that as it may, Spengler is at pains to point out that the Church's discountenance of the Baroque was not irrational, or necessarily even mistaken:

The beautiful, within the Catholic "theology of aesthetics", forms the earthly visage of the unearthly good. Yet the good is not quite the same as the beautiful. High culture betrayed the interests of the Church almost upon its birth during the late 15th century, and again during the classical German period. On both occasions the Church responded time and again by clipping the angels' wings...It is well for Benedict XVI to think of the angels in heaven playing Mozart for their own enjoyment, as he has said, but it is just as easy to imagine the devils in hell doing the same thing. In the afterlife, Mozart would be composing for both of them,

Spengler's point is that the music that Benedict wants now will need, not just musicians who have great gifts, but musicians who are also good men:

Of all the Catholic writers, J R R Tolkien understood this point perhaps the best. His high-Elven master smith Feanor created the Silmarils, three jewels of astonishing beauty, and went to war when they were stolen. His defect was exceeding pride in the work of his hands. The tragedy of the Elves to some extent is the tragedy of the artists. Ultimately it is the virtues of the humble Hobbits rather than the magnificence of the Elves that will prevail.

Yes, but was there a single decent symphony orchestra in the Shire?

* * *

Here is a medley of reasons from Mark Steyn for disliking multiculturalism, the chief of which are (A) it conceals a growing ignorance about foreign societies and (B) it conceals from Western elites the true weaknesses of their own societies:

Where are the Hollywood foreigners today?... If you were to compare 2004’s output from Hollywood with 1944’s, you’d think a once thriving culture engaged with the world had suddenly developed a total aversion to foreigners...

One might point out that Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s was filled with refugees, as well as actors who left small, national film industries for better opportunities in America. But this point is unobjectionable:

To the political left, multiculturalism was embraced as a philosophical escape-hatch from the election results: if all your ideas are unpopular with the majority of people within your jurisdiction, then it makes sense to argue that they’re so universal they need to be introduced transnationally...

Here is the novel bit:

[W]estern governments made multiculturalism an indispensable part of their sense of their own goodness. In reality, Canada and western Europe needed immigrants because of their own terrible combination of unsustainable welfare systems and deathbed demographics. As China and India follow South Korea and Taiwan, and Iraq and Ukraine follow China and India, immigrants will stop coming.

* * *

Anyone with the least interest in esoteric studies, or indeed with general intellectual history, must bookmark the Internet Sacred Texts Archive. It is astonishing. The Confucian Classics, PLUS the Talmud, PLUS complete texts from Charles Fort; there is even the text of the Worm Ourobouros! You can buy a cheap CD ROM that contains, literally, the wisdom of the ages.

* * *

I don't know quite what to make of the most recent Simpsons episode, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star. Bart, for his many sins, is sent to a Catholic school; he and Homer eventually try to convert. The truly odd part is that the school was coeval with a Bing Crosby movie. The clergy were Irish (Liam Neeson played the priest); the nuns whacked the students' hands with rulers; children were taught to say Grace in Latin; Catholics were not supposed to eat meat on Friday. Since Neeson starred, there was at least one person involved in the production who knew how anachronistic all this is.

On the other hand, if we believe other episodes of The Simpsons, the women on Brazilian television shows for children wear thong bikinis, the toilets in Japanese hotels give restaurant recommendations, and French vineyards use American exchange students as slave labor.

That is all made up. Isn't it?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2017-06-09

I love the movie Cars, and I am very excited about Cars 3, which looks less like a cashing-in on the initial success of the first movie sequel [you gotta pay for studios somehow] and more like a real Pixar-worthy sequel with better animation technology.

This post is nearly ten years old now, and I think still pertinent. 

I didn't learn anything new here, but I've got a better memory and a deeper interest in history than the average American. The thing that gets me is no historical figure can stand this kind of scrutiny. For example, here is Lincoln debating with Stephen Douglas. This is the argument of the Progressive Left, that no one before the present is redeemable in any way, but it surprises me when less radical people advocate for ideas that destroy their own position.

Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska act at Peoria, Illinois

Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska act at Peoria, Illinois

It has been a while since I posted something about statistical software and graphs, so here you go!

An article attempting to link the Younger Dryas with Göbekli Tepe. I lack subject matter knowledge, but this is an interesting idea. Greg Cochran thinks the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis is bunk.

David Warren argues for the return of unsafe spaces at universities [with tobacco!]. 

I think I started reading David Warren about the same time I started reading John. J. Reilly, shortly after 9/11. He wrote a column for the Ottowa Citizen at the time, and his beat was terrorism.

Warren was better suited than most. He had been to Afghanistan in his salad days. He ended up a big supporter of George W. Bush and of the War in Iraq as a clash of civilizations. Warren spent quite a bit of time in the wilderness repenting of his sins following 9/11, and I still occasionally read his essays.

Answer: somewhat.

I've never felt like the Hobbit was a kid's book, but I have friends who feel otherwise.

The Long View 2003-04-16: Slayage

I never was into either Buffy or the West Wing, so I don't have much to add to John's comments regarding either. I do think the Matrix Reloaded didn't live up to the first Matrix, but that was a hard act to follow. It probably didn't help when Larry Wackowski exorcised his personal demons by turning into Lana. Maybe there is something for the theory of sublimation after all. Dark City, however, is one of my all-time favorite movies. The director, Alex Proyas, also helmed I, Robot, and the cult-classic The Crow. I'm not completely sure what I like so much about Dark City. I've always been into noir and art nouveau cityscapes. I might just have seen it at an impressionable time too.

I will say I always appreciated John's interest in pop culture and sci-fi. It made his personality far more interesting. The breadth of his interests always provided something to talk about.

Speaking of the West Wing, House of Cards would have been really fun to discuss with John. I always felt like the opening of House of Cards made Washington D. C. seem like the Imperial Capital it aspires to be.

Such is my isolation from popular culture, I actually thought that the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer would air last Tuesday. I was confirmed in this misapprehension by the equally clueless National Public Radio, which broadcast a piece that featured semioticians and media theorists with a keen interest in Buffy Studies. Forty-five minutes into the show that aired on May 13, I realized that either this was not the last episode, or the series was going to have an awfully feeble ending. Doomsday is next week. Of course.
Is the series worthy of analysis? Probably not, but here goes. Buffy marked the end of the Generation X period, or at least of Gen X as a teenage phenomenon. Buffy and her friends understood that the world is a dangerous place, but they abjured slackery. Rather, they set themselves to study necromancy and martial arts under Mr. Giles, the school librarian, in order to keep Hell from breaking loose. (Has anyone noticed how much Giles, in his Rupert the Ripper persona, resembles Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld? It's that smile.) The ethos of Buffy was not that of the Counter Culture, or punk, or hip hop, or even especially goth. Buffy and her friends don't want to be free; they just want ordinary lives. When last was that the theme of a fantasy series?
The series had aspects that have been too little praised or not blamed enough. Despite the show's reputation for popular-culture wit, what really made it work was that, every so often, it would produce a brilliant ghost story. The best, perhaps, was the Hush episode. In that one, the people of Sunnydale lose their voices; meanwhile, heart-stealing ghouls float about the town, ghouls that can be destroyed only by a scream. Generally, the writers don't seem to have done anything like the amount of research that went into Fox's Millennium series: that show used real horrors, or at least horrors that someone, somewhere, believed to be real. Buffy's enemies, in contrast, seem to have been made up from whatever the crew had to hand in the prop department. More seriously, the show had an implicit antipathy to Christianity. The writers have not done their research about that, either: the embodiment of evil in these final episodes talks like a Baptist, but wears a Roman collar.
The art of popular culture is important more for what it reports than for what it preaches, and on that basis we can take encouragement from Buffy's long campaign to keep the Hellmouth shut. If nothing else, the show did not insult the intelligence of its audience.
* * *
Leaving the youthful realism of Sunnydale, we come to the world of morbid delusion represented by The West Wing. Since the election of 2000, and even more since the Bush Administration found its footing after 911, President Josiah Bartlett in that show has been the real president for too many liberals. Every week, they could watch liberal policies challenged by reptilian Republicans, only to emerge victorious under the guidance of the Nobel Prize winning president and his whacky but devoted staff. (The dialogue is pretty snappy; it's a shame that we may hear less of it, now that two of the shows creators are leaving.)
The show preens itself on having the richest and best-educated demographics in broadcast television, at least for a fiction series. The writers do put the characters through the motions of debating real issues. The problem is that, as with applications of the philosophy of John Rawls, analyses that purport to be disinterested somehow always result in partisan conclusions. The show represents that kind of liberalism which really does not know there are serious positions other than its own.
The show's bigotry does not explain its shrinking audience, however: history does. Josiah Bartlett has remained all this time in Bill Clinton's world, where foreign affairs are a distraction from domestic issues, except when the US falls short of international norms. For better or worse, the Bush Administration has turned out to be more interesting than the Bartlett Administration. (For one thing, Bush appointed cabinet members with strong personalities, like Secretary Giles; see above.) Wednesday's conclusion of the season seems intended to remedy these deficits: on the eve of a Middle Eastern war, President Bartlett has recused himself under the 25th Amendment. In the absence of a Vice President (who resigned in an episode I missed), the Speaker of the House became Acting President. The part is played by the immensely fat John Goodman, who is no doubt the writers' image of a Republican.
To be fair, the real Speaker, Danny Hastert, is a bit on the chunky side, but then he is a former wrestling coach. In any case, I suspect the producers were not striving for verisimilitude. This is their idea of outreach.
* * *
So far, the reviews of The Matrix Reloaded I have seen are studies in measured disappointment. This was inevitable: The Matrix itself was so highly praised that simple self-respect required the critics to regard the sequel skeptically.
Perhaps because I lack a fashion sense, I never saw what all the fuss was about. Two other film fantasies about Gnostic illumination appeared at about the same time as The Matrix. One, The Thirteenth Floor, also took place in a virtual cyberworld, but it was a negligible film. The other, Dark City, was a surrealist masterpiece that the old UFA would have been proud of. If it has a cult, I have not heard of it.
This is not to say that I disliked The Matrix. I have every intention of seeing The Matrix Reloaded, too, just as soon as the DVD comes out.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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10 Christian Movies better than God's Not Dead

John Zmirak asked for a list of ten Christian movies better than God's Not Dead. I haven't seen that movie, but I can probably manage. I think I will include series as well, since I find restricting this to movies less fun. My list isn't a list of overtly Christian films or apologetic ones; it is a list of movies that I think couldn't exist without Christianity, and once you know that they all make more sense. And they are all pretty good.

The Mission
This one is on the Vatican's 1995 film list for a reason. For the real-life history behind this, see the Jesuit Republic of South America.

The Little Match Girl
This is the short you can find on the extras for Disney's 1989 The Little Mermaid. I've never cried for anyone the way I cried for the little match girl when she died alone in the snow.

The Lord of the Rings
The greatest novel of the twentieth century, and perhaps the best Catholic apocalyptic novel of all time, visualized expertly by Peter Jackson.

A Man for All Seasons
Too easy.

Cowboy Bebop
Spike fights a fallen angel while Ave Maria plays in the background.

Neon Genesis Evangelion
The way that Christian symbolism and legends are portrayed in Eva is peculiarly Japanese, but this series probably wouldn't be so wildly popular in either Japan or the US if stuck to a strictly autochthonous apocalypse.

Samurai Champloo
Despite being remixed history, this series is a pretty good depiction of the Kakure Kirishitan.

The Last Airbender
An excellent example of what C. S. Lewis called the Tao in The Abolition of Man.

The Book of Eli
I've never quite gotten around to my movie review of The Book of Eli, which I first watched on a trans-Atlantic flight. This is a movie about justice and providence.

Mad Max
The great theme of Mel Gibson's Mad Max movies is pain, which sometimes turns into redemptive suffering.

The Long View: The Fellowship of the Ring

I cannot remember the first time I read the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. I know I was very young, and I remember getting worn paperback copies from the local library's children's section. In that library, I remember a mural on the wall of Frodo and Sam's descent into Mordor from the tower of Cirith Ungol. I also remember my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teacher, Dale Shewalter, would read to his class from the Lord of the Rings during our after-lunch storytime, although by this time I was already familiar with the story. I was of course immediately engrossed from the very first, and I have been ever since. The impact of these books on me is similar to the effect they had on John Reilly, but at a younger age.

I still maintain that Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings is the best book of the twentieth century. Even accounting for the many who found their way to Wicca instead of Tolkien's beloved Catholicism. These books are gifts that keep on giving, and will repay the reader no matter how many times you return to them.

Peter Jackson's Film of J.R.R. Tolkien's
The Lord of the Rings
Part One: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Reviewed by John J. Reilly
Full Disclosure: Regular visitors to this site will know that I rarely review films, and in fact I rarely go to the cinema. This film, though, had to be an exception. "The Lord of the Rings" is one of the two books that influenced me most profoundly. I first read it thirty years ago in high school, entirely by accident and with no idea what I was letting myself in for. The trilogy dissolved my positivist intolerance for fantasy, but it also had the paradoxical effect of opening history and languages to me. I have memorized the details of the book. I often cite it like scripture. People like me want to see the trilogy set out fair and square, with no contradictions. Nonetheless, I can be reasonable on the subject. Really I can.
Now for the review.
I saw "The Fellowship of the Rings" on the Saturday afternoon after it premiered here in New Jersey. That meant the whole afternoon: three hours worth. It's one of those movies that you walk out of wondering who is president now.
In a way, the film is like David Lynch's adaptation of "Dune." Neither film is so much a freestanding story as an illustration of a book. The difference is that Jackson succeeded where Lynch failed. The "Fellowship" sets are perfect. That is exactly what Hobbiton looked like. Jackson got Isengard down to the last bitter spire. I had always known that elvish civilization favored Bavarian Art Nouveau. Now the Platonic ideal has been put on film.
The casting is fine, too. Elijah Wood perhaps looks a bit too much like an anime figure even without makeup, but his Frodo makes the movie. I don't know how they did it, but they made the hobbits look believably 3'6" in the same frames as the normal-sized characters. Special mention much be made of how they turned that great Welsh windbag, John Rhys-Davies, into a plausible five-foot-nothing Gimli the Dwarf. When Boromir (Sean Bean) offers to help Gimli cross a chasm by tossing him, Gimli fixes him with a ferocious stare and says: "Nobody tosses a dwarf!" Except for the occasional remarks about the effects of the hobbits' pipeweed, that is one of the few deliberately funny lines. This is probably just as well: a lesser director could have turned the film into "Time Bandits."
The morning of the day I saw the film, I heard Ian McKellen on National Public Radio express the earnest hope that he will not become "Gandalf" for the rest of his career. Be that as it may, he did Gandalf as I had always thought of the character, down to the accent. Christopher Lee, who plays the turncoat wizard Saruman, is 79, and might reasonably be expected not to have many more parts remaining to him. However, if he is remembered for his turn as Saruman, he will have little to complain of. He could become a bedtime children's boogey to rival Mad Baggins himself.
The burden the film bears is the vast amount of exposition the story requires. The film starts with a brief history of the Ring. "Brief" here means that it is no longer than an episode of the "Simpsons" without the commercials. Episodes from the book are necessarily excised. I, for one, particularly missed the adventure in the Old Forest. Further exposition is inserted at odd points in the story. To this end, Elrond gets one of Saruman's speeches. (Hugo Weaving's Elrond, incidentally, is almost as scary as Saruman. All elves look like they take cosmetic belladonna.) Some characters are missing, too, even when the incidents in which they appeared remain. Frankly, I do not regret the substitution of Arwen Elvenstar, played by Liv Tyler, for Glorfindel in the incident at the Rivendell Ford.
Still it is not enough. There is a discernible plot once the Hobbits get to Rivendell, but anyone who has not read the books is going to be confused about who these people are and why they are doing these alarming things. There is conversation in Elvish (Sindarin, presumably) interpreted by subtitles, but the film does nothing to excite the interest in history and language that Tolkien is famous for. The film has no way to convey the scale of Middle Earth. For all we can tell, Minas Tirith and Isengard are a few days' ride from Hobbiton. Still, we should remember that the work of establishing the context of the trilogy has been completed. The next two films can be almost pure action and still be perfectly faithful to the trilogy.
There is one essential way in which the movie fails the trilogy. People unfamiliar with the books have been asking, "What does a fantasy written fifty years ago have to say to the 21st century?" To that there are two answers.
The first is that, despite Tolkien's attempts to distance himself from an autobiographical interpretation of the trilogy, the fact is that the books are clearly informed by the experience of the world wars, particularly that of a British junior officer in the First World War. Like Tolkien as a young man, Frodo takes part in a nightmare crisis that he cannot escape and that neither he nor his world seems likely to survive. The first half of the 20th century will not be the last time people face such a crisis. The film captures Frodo's desperation constrained by duty very well.
The second answer is the trilogy's implicit model of history. In every age, evil takes another form. It can be defeated, and history allows some generations a holiday. However, we should not be surprised when the Shadow grows menacing again. It is hard to imagine a message more relevant to 2001. Nevertheless, I do not think that Jackson quite delivers it. The books make plain that the Quest of the Ring is just one chapter in the long struggle against the Shadow. That sense of historical depth may be beyond the ability of any film to communicate.
The flipside to this criticism is that the movie does things the books can't. You may not have given much thought to the ways that orcs can enter a dwarvish hall, but Jackson has. The cinematography of the green New Zealand landscape looks like the Celtic collective unconscious. (There is dreamy Celtic music throughout.) Most of the monsters may be derivative from other films, but if so, the selection is commendable. The balrog seems to be related to the amplified Id in "Forbidden Planet," to take one example. The ordinary orcs look rather like Evil's dimwitted legions in "Time Bandits," for another. The extraordinary orcs, the Uruk Hai, look to me like the deeply intimidating alien hunter in, I believe, "Predator." There are original horrors, of course, not least of which is Sauron's Eye.
"The Fellowship of the Ring" is not "Harry Potter." The fight scenes are not cartoonish. Rather the opposite: they seem to have been set up by someone who had paid close attention to "Saving Private Ryan." Parents with very small children should think twice about taking them to a film with so many realistic decapitations and dismemberments. Everyone else, though, should go to see this film instantly. It will make you a better person.
And what was the other book I mentioned at the beginning of this review that influenced me so profoundly? That book was "The Decline of the West," by Oswald Spengler, which I also read in high school. I have not heard that anyone is thinking about turning it into a movie. If you are, please contact me. I have some ideas about the exposition.
Here is a review of The Two Towers.
Here is a review of The Return of the King.
For an explanation of why "The Lord of the Rings" has a lot in common with the "Left Behind" novels, click here.

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Live, Die, Repeat Movie and Book Review

Directed by Doug Liman

Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterwork, and Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton

All You Need is Kill

by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Haikasoru 2009

$7.99; 203 pages

ISBN 978-421560878


Continue?This is one story with three titles. The original Japanese light novel is All You Need is Kill. The theatrical release starring Tom Cruise was called Edge of Tomorrow, and the version released on DVD, Blue-ray, and streaming was Live, Die, Repeat.

My interest in the movie was initially piqued because of the D-Day inspired trailer, and because I had greatly enjoyed Tom Cruise's competent performance in his previous sci-fi movie, Oblivion. I didn't get a chance to see the movie in theatres, so I picked it up on Blu-ray when it came out.

By that time, the title of the movie had changed. The re-branding of the movie with the tagline from the theatrical release did not dampen my enjoyment of what turned out to be a war movie blended with the essence of almost all videogames: infinite lives. It is really the combination that makes this movie interesting. Matching up with the trailer, this is a grunt's eye view of war. Confusion, regret, and death barely kept in check with black humor. The idea that war is hell has been done better elsewhere; what is really horrifying is the idea that you have to live out that last, awful day of your life, over, and over, and over.

At least, until you figure out that death is never final [although it is inevitable], and you can do whatever you want with no repercussions. Much like Bill Murray's cynical weatherman in Groundhog Day, Cruise's dilettantish REMF Major Cage travels through disbelief to despair to acceptance to something like grace. Dying seems to have been the best thing that ever happened to Major Cage. Cruise does a good everyman performance, saying and doing the things most of us fear we would do if trapped in a horrible situation, but ultimately turning into something like the best version of himself after getting unlimited chances to rectify all his mistakes.

The movie was well-done, the central conceit turned out to be thought-provoking [at least for me], and I found the characterization plausible. Not bad for a movie that seemed to be inspired by videogames. It has long been true that all movies based on videogames are bad. It is also true that most videogames based on movies are bad. The kinds of stories you tell in the two forms of entertainment differ markedly, particularly in that videogames are supposed to be repetitive. If the hero fails in his quest, you just respawn and try again. Finding a way to turn this into an interesting narrative was quite an achievement. Even more so, when I discovered the movie was based on a light novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

Thus, it is even more remarkable that this game mechanic turned story mechanism survived the transition to the screen, because novels and movies also are forced to tell their stories in different ways. To successfully blend the novel and the videogame, and to then successfully adapt that to the kind of story that Hollywood does best, deserves praise.

Despite pulling in as much money as blockbuster movies do, videogames have almost no effect on the wider society. This has been changing, slowly. Wreck-It Ralph is the best videogame movie ever made, but to say that risks damning the movie with faint praise. I'm starting to see more videogame references in other kinds of media, but perhaps this is just a Kuhnian revolution where all the old guard are dying off, and the new content producers just find videogames a natural part of their life.

Perhaps another reason for all this is popular entertainment is converging in on a common point. Many big movies now have a novelization [sometimes a new one is created even when it was based on a novel!], and if it is an action or sci-fi movie, also a videogame tie-in. If you can market some toys and other merchandise too, all the better. From a production point of view, it makes sense to tell stories in a way that makes it easier to generate all that valuable ancillary content.

Sakurazaka's novel fits into that paradigm in a very Japanese way. Light novels, as the name implies, are disposable popular entertainment marketed to young adults. Popular light novels are illustrated or animated, serving as the farm team for content generation in the Japanese market. This one was popular enough to be optioned by Hollywood, and it gives us a good case study for how different media and different markets produce subtle differences.

The basic story in the novel is much the same as the movie. Unstoppable alien monsters. A hopeless war. Mechanized infantry are the last hope for humanity. A soldier trapped endlessly in a fight against unstoppable hordes. Sakurazaka's book was very traditional military sci-fi. Lots of salt of the earth soldiering, and no visibility to the grand schemes of the brass. Unlike Cruise's Major Cage, Sakurazaka'a protagonist was a plain old grunt, Private Kiriya, fresh out of boot. Even in translation, the book is very Japanese. The idioms, the expectations of the soldiers, even the kinds of women they dream about, different from an American, or even a western novel of the same type.

Also, the ending is different. My editorial policy is to discuss the ending of any story without warning, but here is your spoiler warning regardless. While I think the ending has much of the same spirit in the American movie as in the Japanese book, the critical difference is that the book goes for the tragic ending while the movie goes for the happy one. What they have in common is that each ending upends the idea of infinite lives in a videogame, where the enemies keep doing the same thing over and over while you learn more and more, and posits an enemy that has exactly the same experience you do, and learns with every iteration.

The whole thing almost ends up where it began, with everything coming down to one climactic battle, much like it would in a world were you couldn't rewind time back to before you died. The crucial difference between book and movie is how this all plays out for the protagonist and his friends. Up until the very end, I liked the book better than the movie. It was harder sci-fi, with better military know-how and better science. But at the end, Hollywood demonstrated why it makes so much money worldwide. They know the human heart better, and that made all the difference.

Tragedy has its place, but it takes greater strength of character to insist that it really will turn out well in the end.

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Brave Movie Review

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Thompson, and Steve Purcell
Written by Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Thompson, and Irene Mecchi
Starring Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, and Emma Thompson

Merida's hairBrave is about two things:  the relationship between Merida and Elinor, and the natural beauty of Scotland. Actually, three things; it is also about Merida's hair.

I listened to a bit on NPR about how Pixar upgraded their Renderman software specifically to animate Merida's hair. I'm impressed. That is the best hair I have ever seen in computer animation. It makes the hair in the Incredibles look like the Barbie doll hair it is. Pixar hasn't done anything new with hair since Monsters, Inc.

In a way, Merida's hair is Merida, wild, beautiful, and untamed. Much like the misty glens and eerie standing stones that form the backdrop for Brave. This movie is rooted in a furious love of a particular place, much like Cars. I want to go to Scotland. If this movie wasn't sponsored by the Scottish tourism board, they got the best deal ever. I also want to go to the Northern Arizona Highland Celtic festival, because the rough and tumble, boisterous fun of that kind of gathering is on display here.

I liked Brave, and I think you should see it too.

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I, Robot Movie Review

I, Robot 
Director Alex Proyas 
Starring Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, and Alan Tudyk 
Writers Akiva Goldsberg and Jeff Vintar

I find it a little hard to describe why I like I, Robot so much. I feel drawn to the movie again and again. In a certain fashion, this is typical of the work of Alex Proyas, the director of I, Robot. Alex Proyas is probably best known for directing The Crow, with Brandon Lee, the ill-fated son of Bruce Lee. The Crow is a cult classic, loved by goths the world over, and its cachet is only increased by the untimely death of Brandon Lee during filming of the movie. Proyas also directed Dark City, a lesser cult film, but a cult film nonetheless, and also one of my favorites. Proyas apparently has a knack for this kind of thing.

I like I, Robot, even though in a certain sense I find its premise intrinsically implausible. That is because I am generally a fan of theLucas-Penrose argument for the impossibility of creating an artificial intelligence by means of a computer algorithm (meaning a Turing machine more generally). Refutations of this argument often verge on the comical, because they are often forced to end up insisting that humans cannot reason, either. Part of the problem here is that Lucas is a philosopher, and many (most?) scientists and mathematicians haven't got any clue what he means by "reasoning". Reasoning, as he means it, simply cannot be an entirely physical phenomenon, as argued by Aristotle in De Anima. I am on record in public (admittedly a small public) as predicting that A.I. in the strong sense is impossible for precisely this reason.

Nonetheless, I have no issue with the kind of robots portrayed in I, Robot, because if machine intelligence is possible, it will be something like what you see in this movie. If you create a machine that can reason, then by necessity it will be able to choose good or evil of its own free will. You just might not like the result.

One of the few parts of I, Robot that actually conforms to Asimov's collection of short stories is the Three Laws of Robotics. Asimov created the Three Laws to break the mold of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein on artificial life stories, but Proyas' version of I, Robot restores this fear to the plot.

This fear is driven by the truth that logic, like justice, is cruel. None of us really look good in the harsh light of justice; no one can live up to their own principles. Logic is not much better; few of us can follow our principles to their logical conclusions. As Dr. Alfred Lanning says in response to question, "Is there a problem with the Three Laws?", "The Three Laws are perfect." There is only one logical conclusion, and robots, by definition, are logical. Even classical philosophies such as Stoicism would be unable to embrace that blunt conclusion.

Asimov actually toyed with this idea himself, as the Zeroth Law of Robotics: A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm. This is the same logical deduction made by VIKI, the malevolent mainframe. Thus, it is not surprising that we fear logic, because logic inexorably leads to our collective perdition. The deeper reason for this is that logic itself is incomplete, especially when expressed in natural language. Any mathematics complex enough to include arithmetic must include an unprovable statement, in the sense that it cannot be deduced from within the system itself. Steve Sailer once noted that contracts are written in something like COBOL. The intent of this is to reduce uncertainty about what the contract actually means. Legalese accomplishes this goal fairly well, but you cannot reduce the uncertainty to zero, because words do not possess absolute definitions, a point made by Fr. Stanley Jaki OSB. Any time spent with a lawyer will prove this assertion to your satisfaction.

This unsuspected philosophical subtlety surprised and pleased me. Even more so because I, Robot seems like an action movie, and a fine one it is. Shooting killer robots, like shooting zombies, never really gets old.

Kick-Ass Movie Review

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Starring Nicholas Cage, Mark Strong, Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Chloë Grace Moretz

Gun PornI had long wanted to watch Kick-Ass, and we finally watched it last month. It was a blast! In one sentence, this was a modern reimagining of the superhero genre with a little gun porn thrown in. 

Much like Superbad, Kick-Ass is full of awkward humor. This is the modern style, and it is not my own, but I acknowledge that it is popular. I cringed almost every time Aaron Johnson opened his mouth. Nicholas Cage was little better. I know that this was the object, but still!

As a superhero movie, this is excellent. Matthew Vaughn did X-Men: First Class as well, and I think he did an equally good job. This is a believable origins story for a group of heroes and villains, incorporating modern tastes and venerable traditions. If you know superhero origin stories, not much here will be surprising. But I have never been in favor of innovation for the sake of innovation. 

There is just enough realism to Kick-Ass to make it feel fresh. A little assassin girl, no matter how well trained, cannot win a fist fight with a grown man who will strike back. I appreciated that. The thugs carry knives, and they will shank you. Money matters. Well done, and can we please have some more?

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When the Last Sword is Drawn Movie Review

壬生義士伝 Mibu Gishi Den
Directed by Yojiro Takita 滝田 洋二郎
Written by Jiro Asada and Takehiro Nakajima
Starring Kiichi Nakai 中井 貴一 and Koichi Sato 佐藤 浩市

I've always been a sucker for historical dramas. If you add in the Shinsengumi [新選組] and the Bakumatsu [幕末], I'm sold. This is inspired by the story of Yamanami Keisuke [山南 敬助], a member of the Shinsengumi who was from Nanbu (modern day Sendai area).  Saitoh Hajime [斎藤 一] is also featured, which is just gravy since Saitoh is my favorite Kenshin character.

This movie is beautifully shot, and deeply tragic. Yamanami is conflicted by his dividied loyalties, to his clan, to the Shogun, to the Emperor, and to his family. The pace is slow, but the movie will reward your patience. Yamanami's fate is inevitable, because he has no place in the new Japan, but his earnest country bumpkin act will grow on you by the finale. Even Saitoh's cold heart melted a little.

This movie came out at the same time as The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. While it lacks the Hollywood size budget and cast, it is definitely worth a look. The Japanese were enduring a civil war at the same time we were, that was equally decisive for the future path of Japan as ours.

The 1860s were a rough decade. The American Civil War, the Bakumatsu, the Taiping Rebellion, and the War of the Triple Alliance all going on simultaneously. The world really was ending. Maybe Yamanami got the better part of it.

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How to Train Your Dragon Movie Review


Directed by Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders
Written by Cressida Cowell, Dean Deblois, and Chris Sanders
Starring Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera

How to Train Your DragonThis is far and away my favorite Dreamworks movie ever. Given how much I liked Kung Fu Panda, this is pretty high praise indeed. I'm down for pretty much anything involving Vikings, or Gerard Butler, so if you put the two together I am there!

I really enjoyed the portrayal of the Vikings. It got something of the feel of Norse culture in a rambunctious, take-no-prisoners, yet cute kind of way. These vikings do indeed like to vike [it's a verb]. There is plenty to annoy the specialist, such as the adult vikings' Scottish accents, but the look and feel is generally pretty good.

The isle of Berk is spectacularly beautiful. I did wonder what Berk would look like in the 9 months of winter, but it was green and lovely during the summer. I could feel the love of such a place that would prompt rude and uncultured Vikings to defend such a place [well that and a general love of mayhem].

We did not see this in 3D. It was still visually stunning, and well worth seeing. I still see 3D as more of a gimmick than anything else. It was not necessary to enjoy the movie.

Toothless the Night Fury very much reminds me of Stitch, and lo, Deblois and Sanders worked together as writers on Lilo&Stitch. This explains much. Not only its appearance, but also its expressions and mannerisms were like Stitch. But, it works.

There should be few surprises in the plot, but I really don't see this as a bad thing. There are only so many basic plots, the question is really how well you pull off a specific performance. I liked the story, and I got into it. There was even a bit of a salutary moral lesson in that no dangerous activity can be undertaken without serious risk.
Toothless as Stitch

I would recommend this movie for anyone. I saw it with my family and friends, from ages 5 to 65, and everyone liked it. The only problem is now I have to stop fending off the Magistra's requests for a pet dog and instead I now have to fend off requests for a pet dragon.

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300 Movie Review


Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Michael Gordon
Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Vincent Regan, David Wenham

Yes, I know damn good and well this movie came out three years ago. I think I can do it better justice now.

300 has taken a lot of abuse. I think war porn is my favorite epithet applied to the movie directed by Zack Snyder. There are many just criticisms that can be leveled against the movie, but I think that most critics miss the point. Hell, it is possible that even Frank Miller misses the point. Nonetheless, the Battle of Thermopylae has loomed large in the Western imagination for 2500 years, so a modern reimagination is not unexpected. The least fair complaint is the dialogue of the movie. Part of the consensus stated on Rotten Tomatoes, "full of...ready-made movie quotes," is at best ignorant. All of the seemingly worst lines from the movie are actually contained in the most ancient historical source. For example, the boast of the Spartan Dieneces that if the Persian army was capable of shooting so many arrows that the sun would darken, "...we shall have our fight in the shade," is from Herodotus.

So what is the point? The point of the movie is to make a modern man feel what a Greek man would feel, a resident of Thebes or Athens, or even Sparta, in 480 BC. The function of fiction is to make arguments by means of appealing to the emotions, and thereby to affect the world when reason alone is insufficient to the task. The intended audience is the average modern man, so I think the comic book/comic book movie is pretty much the perfect demotic medium for this. I say man, and for once I actually mean men, because this story is really intended for men, because it is meant to instruct us in one of our proper tasks.

The Battle of Thermopylae teaches us that a man fights mostly nobly for his wife and his children, and his comrades, and for the land that he loves. This story would have less resonance in the West [and Christian parts of the East such as Russia, where Leonid is still a popular name], were it not firmly in accord with Christian doctrine: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

The culture of the West is founded upon three great cities: Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome. Athens can be understood to include that that was meritorious in Greece, which must surely include the stand of the 300 at the Hot Gates. This is so even though all great cities were built upon a foundation of sand. Sparta was a cruel place, built by the sweat of slaves, unforgiving and ruthless. Rome and Jerusalem were no better, yet some places and some regimes really are worth defending, even though all merely human things fall short.

The fundamental question a man [or woman in this context] must ask himself [or herself], is do I love pleasure, or wealth, or even life itself, more than the good of my brethren? If the time came that I were forced to choose, what choice would I make? 

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
that here, obedient to their law, we lie.


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Sunshine Cleaning Movie Review


Directed by Christine Jeffs
Written by Megan Holley
Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, and Steve Zahn

We watched this on Instant Netflix, my first experience. The Magistra has used it before, but I had not yet. I was pretty impressed, the picture quality is good, there is no loading time, and it is really easy to use. Pretty much the best invention ever.

This is a pretty standard indie movie, spunky white people with a hard-knock life. I liked it for all that, it was darkly humorous, and a little sweet. I could predict just about everything that happened, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The movie was just true enough to life to be funny instead of sad. I really liked the expensive revelation Amy Adam's character had when she realized that you can't just throw away biohazards in the trash.

I also enjoyed the plot point at the expense of public schools, even though the people who watch indie movies are probably part of the problem with public schools rather than the solution. I liked that it had a happy ending. It seems like a lot of indie movies just can't abide a happy ending. It was not a trite, syrupy ending, but a satisfying one. What I really want to know, is what do all those rich idle women's husbands do in Albuquerque?

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*batteries not included Movie Review


Directed by Matthew Robbins
Written by Mick Garris, Brad Bird, Matthew Robbins, Brent Maddock, and S. S. Wilson
Starring Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Frank McRae, Elizabeth Pena, Michael Carmine, and Dennis Boutsikaris


I hadn't seen this movie in quite some time, so we queued it up on Netflix because the Magistra had never seen it. I remember watching it quite a bit when I was a kid. It was still good. The Magistra says, "It was cute. Pretty much everything is cuter when you make it smaller. Apparently that applies to space robots too." She also commented that she thought it would be a good movie to show our kids until the robot "sex" scene. "Mommy, what are the robots doing in the shack?" 

I thought the beginning of the movie was very similar to Up. I don't know there is a connection, but Brad Bird does work for Pixar. This is a movie about the struggles of getting older and the sadness of urban decay and redevelopment. Even though it is a cute movie with a happy ending, it is still sad throughout. Sweetly sad I suppose. Still good.

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Son of Rambow Movie Review

Son of Rambow

Written and Directed by Garth Jennings
Starring Neil Dudgeon, Bill Milner, Jessica Hynes, and Will Poulter

A With Both Hands Mini-Review

Son of Rambow was a cute movie, but a little sad. I found it very evocative of the kind of fun a couple of boys can have, and also of how terrible kids can be to one another. I enjoyed the English Public School parody, and the ridiculousness of the whole enterprise. A fun movie, worth watching.

I don't know a great deal about the Plymouth Brethren, so I cannot say whether their lives are truly as joyless as the movie protrays them. I do know that John Nelson Darby, one of the founders of the Brethren, did have one idea that managed to become popular. He is the founder of dispensational millennialism, and the idea of a rapture is his. This concept did not appear in Christian thought before the 1830s.


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