Friday, February 16, 2018

Movie Review: Black Panther

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This review originally appeared at Salt Lake Film Review.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Getting Started With Disc Golf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

MoviePass Goodness!

Back in August, I started seeing articles about this company that would let you see a movie a day for only 10 dollars a month.  This sounded like a typical scam scenario on the internet... if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

However, after reading about it on some reputable sites, I decided to give it a try.  The worst I would be out is 10 bucks.

It took about 5 weeks to get my card, much longer than they had promised. But I was also aware that there were scores of folks like me jumping on board for the first time, and this little company was probably being overwhelmed.

My Moviepass came in September and I was excited, but still very skeptical.  The program seemed straightforward enough - one standard 2d movie per day for 10 dollars a month.  But seriously!  How could they afford to do this?  One movie for the month was essentially paid for by me... and the rest of the time THEY were going to cover it?  Surely I am missing some point in the fine print.

So, off to the movies I went.  To get this to work, you have to be within 100 yards of the theater.  Then you open the app and check in to the movie you want to see - at which point a timer starts, giving you 30 minutes to go buy your ticket.

I didn't expect it to work.  I swiped my card at the ticket kiosk... the kiosk indicated I had a bad card.  Figures, I really couldn't imagine this was legit.  I was about to step away when I remembered that a lot of card readers can fail on a swipe.  So, I tried it again.  The kiosk hesitated, then spit out my ticket.

I just stared at the ticket for a minute.  "No... WAY!" I said out loud.  I felt like I had just gained a super-power.

Since that day, I have seen about 34 movies (8 or 9 a month).

I still don't know how Moviepass can do this.  In fact, it got cheaper.  I bought an annual pass which brought my price down to 7.50 a month.

I wrote a note on a MoviePass FB page talking about how MP has changed my theater-going experience.

I went from one movie every month or two to two or more movies a week.
That means I now buy concessions... something I never did before. I am still cheap... I bought the annual popcorn bucket, which was never financially worth it before given how often I went to the theater.
I see movies by myself a lot... and I love it. Moviegoing is much more spontaneous now... and it is often too cumbersome to find someone who can grab a show on the quick. The theater has been my go-to activity when I have a few hours to kill.
I skip the previews. They used to be a highlight, but now that movie time is eating up more of my week, skipping those saves me some time... plus, I usually have already seen them.
I watch a wider selection. I used to reserve going to the theater for blockbusters... dramas and comedies just didn't seem worth the expense to fork over for the big screen.
I have realized I get more out of the movie at the theater. At home, I am distracted. I am usually working on something as I watch, or the phone rings, or someone wants to ask me something, etc. At the theater, the movie has my undivided attention.

Here are the movies I have seen so far.  The MP app keeps a history, but that function cut out for a bit in November and I am not sure that it got all of my movies added back correctly.  However, these ones I am sure about.

It (2x)
Wind River
American Assassin
Brad's Status
Kingsman 2
Blade Runner 2049
Happy Death Day
American Made
Marshall (2x)
Halloween
Thor (2x)
The Foreigner
Goodbye Christopher Robin
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Justice League (2x)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Coco (2x)
The Disaster Artist
Star Wars Last Jedi
Ferdinand
Shape of Water
Darkest Hour
Jumanji
The Greatest Showman
Lady Bird
Molly's Game
I, Tonya
Downsizing

My popcorn intake is off the charts and will probably need to be regulated if I want to celebrate my 50th birthday next year.  I don't know how much longer this ride will last, but I am going to strike while the iron is hot!

I have been to the movies more in the past 4 months than I had in the past 4 years.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Facebook Faith #58 Schoolyard Bickering

I am part of a group on Facebook which discusses 90s Christian music.  It is quite an eclectic bunch consisting of Christian fundamentalists, liberal Christians, varied levels of vague spirituality, and atheists.  For the most part, music is at the fulcrum but religious discussions happen.  I appreciate that most folks keep it at the discussion (and not argumentation) level.

Someone started a thread asking if the folks in the group considered religions like the Mormons and JW's to be Christian.  In the thread, I responded and this is part of the conversation.
Andrew Hackman - I moved out to Utah 13 years ago. One of the things that led me out of the faith was a realization, for the most part, that Mormons were simply better at Christianity than my Evangelical sect. Since I was taught that they were not even Christians, this was a bit of an eye-opener.  :)
Holly - Doesn't make them Christians, though.
Andrew Hackman - Why not? A person who believes in Christ and his teachings would seem to be, in the simplest sense, a Christian. Anyone denying that would merely be stating their preferred articulation, but that would not have any basis. Any attempt at such quickly devolves into schoolyard bickering.
Holly -"Not all who say to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
Andrew Hackman - Sure... but every sect could announce that of every other sect... like I said, schoolyard bickering.
Holly -You don't get to merely self-identify as a Christian, you have to be incorporated into Christ through baptism according to the Lord's command. Mormons do not have a valid baptism.
Andrew Hackman - And they say you don't have a valid baptism... see how this works?

The conversation went on a little while longer, but I bailed.  When I find myself wanting to repeat something I have already said, this shows me I am not really being heard ... so why bother?

Holly could not see the folly of claiming her baptism had validity while Mormon baptism did not.  She could not understand why I felt her belief did not have a superior claim.  It is like some believers cannot achieve escape velocity, so they keep spinning around the same gravity well.  I will join them rhetorically for one orbit, but then it gets tedious.  In the past, I would have spun around in that conversation to exasperation.

Later in the thread, a gentleman referred to Mormon beliefs as "kooky".  I tried to explain that, from an outsider's view, his religious beliefs would seem just as "kooky".  No movement there either.

I have to clarify that I do know plenty of religious believers who are aware of what their beliefs look like to an outsider, and so are careful in how they approach the belief structures of other religions.  They do not try to supply objective certainty to something that is inherently a subjective experience.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Christians Don't Make Atheists

In the article The Christians Making Atheists, John Pavlovitz makes an argument that the reason people are not coming to Christianity is due to the bad behavior of its adherents.  He closes the article by stating:
... the reason the Church soon will be teetering on the verge of extinction and irrelevance will be because those entrusted to perpetuate the love of Jesus in the world, lost the plot so horribly, and gave the world no other option but to look elsewhere for goodness and purpose and truth.
I can agree with most of his critiques here of American Christianity - there is little Jesus left in the faith. It is often just a bastion of bigots waving tribal flags in the faces of those it calls "other".

However, Christians behaving badly is not the reason most folks become an Atheist. As my friend Brook said, "Christians are not the biggest obstacle to people taking Christianity seriously. That's just a story Christians tell themselves so they don't have to face the fact that their story and entire foundation sounds utterly ridiculous to non-Christians."

Religion will make little sense to most folks not raised in it. And it makes less sense to more and more religious folks as they are being exposed to the thoughts and religions of their neighbor.

Religion continues based on two foundations:
  • Its ability to control the narrative delivered to children
  • Its ability to control the narrative delivered to its members. 
Religion is losing control on both fronts.

When I was growing up, every kid I knew went to church. Maybe not my church, but a church. Nowadays, kids usually have a friend or two that does not attend church or belongs to a completely different faith. When I had questions regarding my faith when I was a young person, there was no one to talk to about it other than those within my faith. Today, people with questions have many resources available. Religious groups are losing the ability to control the narrative.

Mr. Pavlovitz assumes people are leaving his faith because of the bad behavior of its members. I left religion because I realized that the sincere devotion of others to their religion was no different than what was occurring in mine. When my religion ceased to be uniquely true... it ceased to be true. I no longer believed.

The bad behavior of those in my tribe was incidental.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Some Facebook Thoughts on Trump



October 4

I am fascinated by the arc much of American Christianity is taking. No longer is it about the teachings of Jesus, but rather about the acquisition of power. Oh, the name is kept for tribal identity, but - as my believing brother often says - these Christians have chosen Barabbas. When the way of Jesus failed to get them the governmental power they sought, they chose a zealot who could move the ball down the field.

September 30

I have always known Donald Trump was a vulgar man with a decrepit soul. If you had asked me 10 years ago about Donald, I would have described him as a singular embodiment of all that can be worst in human nature. My view has not changed.

Many folks on the Right, 10 years ago, would have described him the same way. They could easily spot him as a huckster, who would step on his own children to advance his ego.

Now though, I watch these same folks defend him at every corner and rail against anyone who would point out his obvious affronts to humanity. 10 years ago, they would have objected to Donald Trump on a plethora of moral grounds; now they are angrily defending all of his misdeeds.

It makes clear to me that their previous "moral" objections to him were nothing of the kind. In fact, they have no sense of morality at all. Morality was simply a useful pawn in their rhetorical repertoire, easily sacrificed in the larger game of dominating others.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Boy Turns 16

My youngest was born 16 years ago today.  I am out of practice with writing blog entries and I find my thoughts are running into one another.  Do I start by talking about how proud I am of him?  How I enjoy our time together?  Should I talk about his many and varied accomplishments?  How do I make this entry fit the love I feel for my son?

I am not sure, so this may be an exercise in Freewriting.

Jake was in a play this year where he played an older gentleman who learned he had a terminal illness.  He ends the play with a heartfelt monologue about living.  Though I knew he was playing a character, I was still affected by watching my son talk about the meaning of life... in the face of death. I also noted that Jake really does "get" life so much better than I did at his age.

I got to hear my son sing for the first time this year.  Last fall, I was in a play with Jake's choir teacher.  She was doing the musical direction for a different play Jake was in and told me that he was doing really well with his solo. Solo? I did not even know Jake could sing.  If he ever takes up poker, he will clean house because he rarely lets people know what cards he is holding. He sung so well in his play that his sister and I kept looking at each other in surprise and awe.

Jake grew dill in the garden this year.  He grew a few other things too, but the dill sticks out to me because he found lots of uses for it and tried his hand at pickling vegetables.

I did not realize Jake and I had started a tradition.  We had binge watched all of the previous Marvel/Netflix series together.  We began each one by picking up a round of Chinese food to gorge ourselves on as we worked through the first three or four episodes.  I was at work when "The Defenders" dropped and I got a text from Jake - "Don't forget to bring home Chinese!"

Jake started High School two weeks ago.  I know from having already been through this with his sister that the years will sweep past us hastily.  I only have two more years with "children" under my roof.

I am not sure where Jake's future will take him.  He has a sharp mind, a contemplative temperament, and a gracious nature.  He tends to do well at anything he sets his mind to, so I suspect the hardest part of his future will be in the choosing.  I have every confidence he will choose well.

Happy Birthday Jake!  Enjoy your high school years, enjoy your friends and family, and just keep enjoying life!




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