Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Quest for Mary Magdalene by Michael Haag -- Book Review and Brief Comments


Photo: from books.google.com at this link

Extremely readable history of Mary Magdalene, from the Bible to Dan Brown, that will teach you some things even if, like me, you've read a lot about her already, from the likes of Vermes, Ehrman, etc. For example, you probably know that nobody in the Middle East of this time had first and last names. Jesus of Nazareth was the Nazarene. John the Baptist, was, well...You get the idea. No one had last names. So it's also been known for awhile that Mary Magdalene was called that like Jesus was called Jesus the Nazarene. As he was a Nazarene, from Nazareth, she was the Magdalene, from Magdala. Well, not so fast there. Michael Haag, author of this book, posits that there was no Magdala at the time we're talking about, from 1 to 33 A.D. (or CE, if you will). (Except in Matthew 15:39, where after feeding the multitudes Jesus took ship to Magdala. But a Codex much older than the copy we have in use in our present Bibles [You know the Bible is thousands of years old and has been copied, and miscopied, millions of times, yes?] known as the Codex Vaticanus has the same village in that passage as Magadan, not Magdala. So why the last name? Haag says she was known as "the Magdala" (like John was "the Baptist") and that the word comes from the Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) magdal and the Hebrew migdal--and that these words mean "tower." Like, how shepherds had a tower that they could use to see the miles of fields where the sheep grazed. Sound familiar? As Jesus said he was the shepherd who watched over his sheep, or flock, meaning his disciples and believers today, so too did somebody watch over Him. That, apparently, is the nickname (and Jesus did give a lot of nicknames, as he did to most of the disciples) Jesus gave to Mary Magdalene. She was the Tower. She watched over him.


Photo: St. Peter, from Catholic.org.

No wonder Peter didn't like her. Peter wasn't Peter's real name. His real name was Simon. Peter is a nickname Jesus gave to him because it means Rock. And he was the first Pope, essentially, as he was "the rock" that the Church was founded upon. But now that you understand the thing about nicknames, which Jesus gave out like he gave out parables, well, now, it makes you think, right? No wonder Peter complained about Mary Magdalene all the time.

[The book lags a little in the last few chapters as Haag embarks on a quick trip through present day renditions of Mary Magdalene. Feel free to skip those. It's a little better when it describes Mary Magdalene in paintings from the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, though I think it worked for me more because I'm interested in those times, and not so much because of what Haag had to say about Mary Magdalene in those times. It's at its best when it covers the Bible and the gnostics--ironic, because Haag describes himself as more of a historian on the Templars and Crusades, and not so much as a biblical scholar. But that's where he's at his best here.]

Haag's research is exhaustive and he deals a lot in common sense--things you would think go hand in hand with historians, but that hasn't been my reading experience. Often they're either too much one or the other, but they need to be combined to make sense of something that happened thousands of years ago. Haag does that well with the Bible. For example, after I thought I'd read everything there is to read about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I see this:

"There are indeed hints in the gospels that stories were going round in the lifetimes of Jesus and of Mary his mother saying that he was a bastard and she was an adultress. 'Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? [A]nd are not his sisters here with us?' says Mark 6:3. In Judaism a son would be identified by naming his father even if Joseph had been dead for a long while, but Mark, who mentions every other member of the family, leaves Jesus' father unknown. Nor does Mark mention Joseph in any other part of his gospel. And in John 8:41 during a confrontation at the Temple[,] the Pharisees say to Jesus, 'We be not born of fornication', insinuating that he was."


Photo: from Pantera's Wikipedia page at this link. "Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera (c. 22 BC – AD 40) was a Roman soldier whose tombstone was found in BingerbrückGermany, in 1859."

I just looked those passages up again in my New Testament. Mine replaces Joses with Joseph, and Juda with Jude, but all the rest is the same. And you can't disagree with the logic Haag uses. I've known all the stories before: I don't believe there was a census, because at no other time in the history of the world has a leader told his people that, for a census, everybody had to pack up and move back where their original ancestors came from. Can you imagine that happening in America today? What a nightmare! And the story of the slaughtering of the firstborn? No other writers writing at the time--and even in antiquity, there were many--mention anything like that. You would think it would make headlines, that everyone would have a comment to say about it, even someone in a court, in his private diary, never mind actual historians (apparently there have always been historians translating history, even in ancient history). But nobody did, outside of that one biblical passage, Matthew 2:1-16. So, yeah, I'd already known and thought about that, [and just click here in my blog so you can read about my thoughts of Mary and Pantera], but this was the first time my attention was drawn to that one passage, of Jesus, "the son of Mary." Of course Haag is right. From ancient times, in the Middle East, in the Nordic stories, in Beowulf, in the Odyssey, possibly all over, a man is defined as being the son of his father, not the son of his mother. Beowulf and Odysseus were referred to like that long after their fathers had died. But when the father is unknown? Or the man had been born out of wedlock, for whatever reason?


Photo: from Pantera's Wikipedia page at this link.

Haag shows some good research and some good common sense, in equal measure. (And I have to add that, for a very long time, I've been put off by Jesus's only biblical conversation with his mother, at the wedding at Cana, in John 2:1-5.  Yes, she seems to have been nagging him, but he is still rather curt and annoyed with her. No other writer has mentioned the same slight surprise at this that I have always felt. Until now. So thanks, Mr. Haag. Just a little thing, but it bothered me. And how do we feel about that conversation being the only one between Jesus and his mother? Doesn't it seem like she's been rather scissored out? Mary, His mother, is venerated now, but she got short shrift then.

And the author proves rather conclusively, I think, that Jesus and his disciples were financially supported by Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene (if they're different; many scholars think they're the same, as Haag seems to), Joanna (possibly a former wife of someone relevant in the royal court, a man named Chuza), Mary, Jesus's mother, and a few other loyal women. I've considered this, but not for too long. But, yes, there seems to have been money flowing in, and it wasn't from Jesus himself, right? And his followers were fishermen (who were not necessarily poor at that time, but the Bible says these were) and others said to be destitute, so who had the money? Could the women be hiking all over the Middle East unless they had some money? And the women who were not from money, or who were not married to it, where did they get enough money, in that time, to be financially independent? (Get my, and Haag's, drift here?) But where do the robes come from? The food? The water? The sandals? Over the few years of the biblical stories? The Bible stays rather close-lipped about this, but it makes sense. These things cost money, and the guys didn't have any. Why else would these men, as worried about women as they were (Peter, for example, was apoplectic about them, especially Mary Magdalene; you can look that up), have these women along all the time, but that they were the bank?


Photo: from La Pieta's Wikipedia page at this link

So, yeah, makes you think. And that's why I read books like this. To think very seriously about a book that essentially controls my government right now, and yet none of those guys (and I emphasize the guys) seem to have actually read all of it. (Trump, especially, I assure you, has not. But a caveat: He's never said that he has. In fact, he's not very religious. But the southern gentlemen controlling him are. [The Russians controlling him may be as well.] Or, at least, that's what these fine conservative white men will tell you as they push their agendas along. Believe me, when Trump's impeached, these fine men will cut their strings with him very fast, and then say they never really liked him in the first place, that they had their doubts about him all along.)

Well, anyway, because I believe you have to know and study the weapon of choice of your adversary, I have read every single word of the Bible, Old Testament and New. Yes, every word. Twice. And countless times in close readings while reading books about it. Which is right, by the way, to read books like Haag's and not to just take the author's word for everything. That's part of the whole problem, right? To just take someone's word for something very important without reading it yourself? So I do that--I read the Bible, and I read about the Bible, and then I read the Bible again to better think about the things that I have read in books about the Bible.

Because, for God's sake, someone's got to. See what I did there?

So if you're interested in this kind of thing--and if you're being unfairly controlled by conservative social laws in the U.S., you should be--then you should read this. It says a lot of right, and righteous, things about how women have historically had their importance stripped from them since antiquity. If it can happen to Mary Magdalene, and Mary, mother of God, then it can happen to you, right? Right?

Saturday, June 10, 2017

High Lonesome: 40 Years of Stories from Joyce Carol Oates


Photo: from books.google.com at this link

Better known for her Gothic stories, especially the heavily anthologized "Where Is Here?" and a few others, this is still an extremely readable and often striking collection of short stories spanning 40 years, from 1966 to 2006. As with all collections of this length, and shorter, you may find some swings and misses here, but there are far more hits than misses. At worst, a few stories were okay, unimpressive, but not bad, exactly. Some are stunning. Some are memorable, sometimes for the writing, sometimes for the things that happen. (In one, an unhappy woman in her early 20s allows herself to have a messy, unstopped period while she and her family spoke with a priest at a seminary, where her brother would've been kicked out but for that spectacle.) Other stories are memorable for what they don't show, or say. (In one, a young man kills himself in his car. In the glove compartment is found an object that may insinuate he also would've killed someone else, but for some reason didn't. The story ends with a character asking the other what that object had been for--and the story ends right there.) Anyway, there are 11 new stories here (as of 2006), one of them the title story. This one is also perhaps the best of the bunch--a nice comment to be able to make, considering Joyce Carol Oates has been writing now for over 50 years, and apparently hasn't lost a thing. If anything, she may be getting better. So these are all good, and highly recommended, though I prefer her Gothic stories, none of which are here.

A short bulleted commentary:

--"Spider Boy" is very good. Chilling and short, as usual about the unknown side of someone's personality.

--"The Cousins" is an award-winning story.

--"The Gathering Squall" has a nice metaphor, tying a painting in with the story's theme. I tried Googling the painting, couldn't find it. Possibly invented for the story.

--"The Lost Brother" is a good story about the hopelessness of having hope for a lost soul in your family. And perhaps why you shouldn't.

--"High Lonesome" motivated me to start my own story. The best part of the story--the old, desperate, lonely man getting pinched while only wanting conversation from a hooker who's not a hooker--isn't even the main part.

--"Upon the Sweeping Flood" is good and memorable, and has a recurring image of children suffering at the hands of insane adults.

--"At the Seminary" was referred to above. Not to be missed, if only for the scene I described.

--"Where Are You Going...?" is perhaps the most anthologized story here, one the author says she regrets having to include in this volume because it's so prevalent elsewhere. I have it in the tons of other sweeping anthologies downstairs. However, it continues to impress, even after a great many readings. Sly, slow, charming, disturbing, seductive (not in a sensual sense) evil has perhaps never been captured so well, not even by Hawthorne.

--The collection is broken down into the decades. Stories from "The 1970s" are all good, though representative (except for "Manslaughter") of John Updike. Maybe Cheever, too.

--"The Hair" was a very good, very John Cheever, expose of suburban couples and the illusion of social and marital perfection that one couple holds over the other, until the ending. Reminiscent of reality; been there, done that. Got away just in time.

--"Life After High School" was referred to above. Interesting. The woman in the story reminds me of someone I know.

--"Mark of Satan" was a story I was highly critical of on my blog, a long time ago, for reasons that now escape me. I'd read just the last few stories of the whole collection at the time, and responded in anger about this one. I think I mentioned I thought it was a rip-off, but it's not, and I can't even begin to tell you what the hell my problem was. Anyway, it's okay, not great and not bad.

The title, by the way, is a phrase that means "drunk" or "bender," but which sounds depressive to me as well. This all makes sense, because there's plenty of all three here. Most of the characters and stories inhabit upstate New York, Richard Russo's (Nobody's Fool and Empire) stomping grounds, or New York City, when the stories sound a bit like Updike and Cheever.

And I would love to know her writing schedule. She's so prolific, she makes Stephen King seem like J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Wonder Woman -- A Rant within A Movie Review



Yes, I am a grown man who went to see Wonder Woman Sunday night with my better half. I'm okay with this, for a lot of reasons. I liked it a lot, and I'm going to buy it when I can. Loved, loved, loved this movie. Here's a rant within a review (and here's another, quieter one from Time Magazine, at time.com) to explain why: 

I was a little concerned about the hoopla about the movie being shown first to a female-only audience. Notice I'm saying I was concerned about the negative reaction given to the female-only showing, not about the movie itself, nor about the female-only showing. One: the moviemakers can do whatever they want with their own movie. Two: It sort of makes sense that a movie based on a television show (and comic) geared towards the theme of female empowerment should be shown to an audience of females. Three: I'm a little concerned, and tired, of men acting the victim. This is insulting and offensive not only to women, but to common sense and common decency. Men, of course, have been victimizing women since time immemorial, physically, emotionally, psychologically, culturally, and financially, in America and elsewhere; in the workplace, in the paychecks at the workplace, at home, at a debate while literally stalking them on a political stage, and, lately, on a tape with Billy Bush that was heard all around the world before the man speaking on the tape became President because he appealed to hate groups, hateful people, and powerful and computer-savvy Russians. I'm sorry, did I say all that out loud? I did. But enough of that shit, waddaya say? He gropes women, he's obviously assaulted women, he brags on tape about groping women and assaulting women, and occasionally he procreates with women, while insinuating that he'd like to do so with his own daughter, but let's not pretend for a second that he actually likes and respects women, okay? Had enough of that. He wants blatant truth and not political correctness? Well, there it is. Wonder Woman sort of gives an innocent little finger to all that, and it's about time.


Photo: Wonder Woman is not complacent, she's not weak, and she's not French. (Sorry.)

Women have gotten the short end of the political stick lately, so how about we all just shut up as they watch a damn movie, huh? And, funny how even a movie review becomes a sign of these political times, but that's how screwed up and Alice in An Effed-Up Misogynistic Wonderland these times are. 

Wonder Woman is a good action movie that, despite itself, says a lot of things, all of them well. And one of the things it says well is that women can be themselves without any shame. (Wonder Woman, unlike all of the other women from her enchanted isle, is not exactly a fish without a bicycle, per se, but she understands that she could be, that loving a man is a choice, not a mandate. [And shame on you if you don't get the reference.]) One of the things I noticed in this action movie--very different from the thousands of action movies I've seen--is that no man in the movie grabs the woman's hand as they run away from something. (Remember how Daisy Ridley correctly griped about this in the latest Star Wars franchise film?) Wonder Woman doesn't have to withdraw her hand from the guy who grabbed it, because no guy keeps up with her and grabs it. She kicks ass (apparently with a hairstylist on immediate standby) and the men have to follow her. She doesn't stop for them. She doesn't wait for them to act. She doesn't wait for them to save her. She doesn't wait for them to save others. She doesn't wait for them to solve ills or even to stop the war. She takes the lead. That they are willing to follow her, literally and figuratively, without any sexist misgivings (these are all incredibly good, well-behaved guys), is a victory in its own right. Yes, she looks better than Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich and Angelina Jolie and Pamela Anderson (showing my age with that last reference) as they're kicking ass in their painfully tight black leather outfits, but that's not why the guys follow her into battle. You'll have to watch the movie to see why, but trust me on this. They follow because of who she is, not because of what she looks like. She is not a What. Perhaps that's a lesson there.



Photo: The picture referenced below, from Wonder Woman and another movie, best not referred to.

Having said all that, Wonder Woman is not a political movie. It doesn't try very hard (it does maybe a little tiny bit) to teach this lesson, or any lesson at all. It's actually a very good action movie. It's directed very, very well. The production design is very good. The script is reasonably intelligent (there's a tiny bit of emotional lovey-dovey crap at the end, which threatened to connect to my one or two feelings, but it gets a pass with me) and it even has a frame story technique. In fact, that involves the one thing--the only one thing--I liked about the last Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman movie monstrosity mess: the picture of her in WWI that Bruce Wayne finds. That picture was the best part of that movie, and I was looking forward to knowing the story behind it. This is it. I wish I could prove this, but I actually said that to my better half, that the picture was the best part of that movie. It's the starting point, and the finishing point, here, and that works very, very well. As I've said to people before: good writing is a frame story, a book-ending, a wrap-around. Good technique. Simple, but effective.

So, anyway, this movie doesn't try to be political. That it is, anyway, is yet another indicator of these incredibly, jaw-droppingly, Can't Believe People Voted for A Guy who Mocked A Handicapped Reporter on Worldwide Television and then Tweets more than a 12-year old black hole we're in.

This movie says we can be ourselves, anyway, even when our immediate environment is going to hell. Be yourself, fight against wrongs, and be strong, and don't wait for someone else to do it. This was an effective, stirring, moving, meaningful action film that looked and sounded great, that guys can enjoy, that, by God, may actually be saying something beyond itself that is true and worthwhile.

Wonder Woman, and Gal Gadot, who plays her, are immigrants, by the way. See what I did there?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lana the Dog and Alien: Covenant

Thanks for coming back! I've been gone a long time, because of a stubborn chest cold and work overload.

So a few quick things:


--Lana has been saved! Thanks to those of you who told me you went to the shelter's Facebook page!

--Looks to be like the Trump administration--and I do mean all of them--have been to brunch with Russia, if you catch my drift. We can impeach a guy who slept with an intern, but not a guy who for years has been in bed with the Russians? It'll get uglier before it gets better, and I'm not sure I want Mike Pence at the con, either. Maybe if it's proved the entire election was rigged, they all go, and we do it all over again. The proof is there. Someone just has to type it up. Where's Woodward and Bernstein when we need them?

--And Jared Kushner is yet another thug in an expensive suit. He and all of his brothers-in-law.

--Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant, which I just saw today, is a visually stunning film of bleh! I'm really upset about how he chose to deviate from Prometheus's sense of ideological wonder and instead delve into monomaniacal domination, which we've seen plenty of times before. I'm also angry about what he did with Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw character, an awesome, riveting, strong women who deserved a helluva lot better than this. Like her, I also wanted to know about the Engineers, and about why they created, and then wanted to destroy, us. You'll see why we're now never going to know. Why would a very talented director waste so much time making a visual but morose film? And the captain...I swear, he must be the dumbest character this side of Friday the 13th movies. After seeing lots of death and destruction and aliens, he actually peers inside a hatching alien cocoon for several long moments. Deserved what he got, though Ridley Scott made him suffer for way too long, after he asked David, the Synthetic, philosophically, about what he believed in. Odd last question. Watch Prometheus again and skip this one.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Lana, "the loneliest dog in the world," Needs Our Help


Photo: Lana, from my blog entry in 2015, and from this week's article here.

Okay, let's help the underdog.

Lana, "the loneliest dog in the world," needs help. I've written about her before, so click here if you missed it. The bottom line now is that she's been returned to a shelter, and she only has until May 20th, or she may be put down.

Having read about her twice, and having now written about her twice, it seems to me that she suffers from excessive shyness and mistrust, and she may have been abused in her past. It sounds like she's been in a shelter for so long, so often, that being left alone in a house or apartment for a few hours may give her actual PTSD symptoms. My dog, a greyhound who was put in a cage for two years, gets like that around dog cages, so he can't ever go in one to wait for his turn at the groomer. One hallway at a building I used to work in must remind him of the track, or a shelter, because when he saw it, he reared up on his legs like a horse and actually came out of his harness. Dogs can have PTSD symptoms. Anyway, the article says that, when Lana's not around the people she trusts, she shuts down or becomes more hesitant. Well, hell, so do I. Who doesn't?

From the article:

Nearly two years after Lana the Labrador became known as "the saddest dog in the world," she's looking for a forever home again.
After an image of Lana cowering at an animal shelter went viral in 2015, thousands of applications poured in and she found a new owner.
But this week, animal rescue group "Rescue Dogs Match" shared an update: Lana is back up for adoption...She's now living at a boarding facility, but due to limited space, she only has until May 20 to find another home. After that, she may be euthanized.
The rescue organization says the best home for Lana, now 2, would be a farm where she can spend most of her time outside.
"The best family for her would be a mature couple or person that has the time, patience, determination and commitment to help her become more confident," the rescue group wrote on Facebook.
"She is sweet and silly, that is hard-wired into her character. She is timid, wary of strangers only at first. When she is not around the people she trusts, she has the tendency to shut down or become very hesitant."
If you’re interested in Lana, you can email info@rescuedogsmatch.com to foster or adopt her.

May 14 is Lana's Birthday ( she will be 3 ) Please help find her a Foster or Forever home. Lana only has until May 20th
Name: Lana Turner
Breed: Lab mix
Gender: Female
Size: Medium
Age: 3 yrs
Cat: NO
Dogs: NO
Kids: None
Fenced in backyard if in the suburb

Lana Turner is looking for a foster or forever home. She has made some improvements but there is still work to be done. The best environment for her would be a horse or hobby farm where she can be outside most of the time “helping” her person with the chores around the property. She LOVES to be outside no matter what the weather. For cold winter days a quality winter coat would keep her cozy. Lana loves to be part of whatever is going on but not in “tight” quarters. The best family for her would be a mature couple or person that has the time, patience, determination and commitment to help her become more confident. A family that would arrange controlled play dates with other dogs, without food or toys around. A family that has a routine she can rely on, and an active lifestyle that would banish the thought of endless hours in concrete bunkers with nothing to do.

She is sweet and silly, that is hard-wired into her character. She is timid, wary of strangers only at first. When she is not around the people she trusts, she has the tendency to shut down or become very hesitant. It is important for her to be in a home where she will continue to be exposed to new situations with lots of positive reinforcement. She is loyal and loving to the people she trusts.

She very much likes to hang out with other dogs. However time, training and patience is required to continue to lessen her possessive issues around food . Every dog learns at their own pace, so best that she be the only pet in the home. No apartments and a fenced in yard is a must if living in a suburb. 

Her rescue team is committed to supporting her next, and hopefully final, adoptive family with training and time, as much as is needed to help her be truly forever home.

Help Lana by sharing her story. Please email info@rescuedogsmatch.com if you are interested in fostering or adopting.

(Me again.) Let's help Lana live beyond May 20th, and look more like the picture below. Please forward this blog, or copy and paste it, to your own blog, and to your friends. Let's pass the word and keep this dog alive. She'll be 3 on May 13th, and she hasn't had a chance to live. If I didn't already have a dog, I would've contacted them already.

Thank you.

Friday, April 21, 2017

This Week in Review: Trump, Bill O'Reilly, Aaron Hernandez, Tom Brady and Sean Spicer


Photo: from isitfunnyoroffensive.com, here (at your own risk). United's newest "passenger removal specialist."

Hey, it's been a few weeks! Mostly my absence was due to an illness that felt like a minor-league flu, but wasn't (I think). Fever up to 101 for a few days; really bad throat and ear pain; fuzzy and congested head (which I have normally anyway). I still have a lingering minor cough and fuzziness/congestion and ear pain, a few weeks and two different antibiotics later. Twice a doctor has shined a light into my right ear and said, "Whoa, there's a lot of water build-up there." Could've been worse, I could've met United's newest employee, pictured above, who calls himself a "passenger removal specialist."

Anyway, there's been a lot of crap lately to get my mind off it. Among these:

--Bill O'Reilly, who's made a (lucrative) living blowharding about "values" and telling people how to behave, has been paying off women over the last 15 years so they don't sue him for sexual harassment. To the tune of $13 million, that is, and I'll bet that's conservative. (See what I did there?) What a hypocrite! Is it me, or does it seem that everyone who makes a living telling others how they should live is a hypocritical dirtbag?

--And even then, Fox only let him go after the sponsors started pulling out. Which shows you it's, unfortunately, not about sexual harassment, but about dollars.

--By the way, O'Reilly's publisher, Henry Holt, has stated that it will still work with him. "Our plans have not changed," Holt said in an email, according to the New York Times. O'Reilly's latest best-selling book titles: Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, Killing Patton, and Killing Reagan. I am not making those up. Read into the similarities what you will, but you don't need to read books from Henry Holt Publishing anymore, right? I don't (if I do already). I don't normally advocate not reading, but we don't need to support this dirtbag. There's plenty of other things to read.



Photo: from his own Wikipedia page. 

--And in any dictionary, next to the word "smug."

--Bill O'Reilly was given a severance package as high as $25 million, by the way. Add to that the approximate $13 million Fox paid to women he sexually harassed, and that's $38 million Fox had paid to kiss his butt, not counting his actual salary. His latest contract, just recently signed, was for $18 million a year--which he won't collect. Fox had an out-clause: it was void if any new allegations and lawsuits were filed against him. Hmmm...You think Fox knew anything?

--And this is after Fox Chairman Roger Ailes had to resign over his own sexual harassment woes. Despite this, Fox was still willing to pay the money for O'Reilly and sweep him under the rug. Rather than clean house all at once, Fox was willing to let it go on.

--And Fox has been putting on conservative "news" for years about proper values and behavior. Sexually harassing women? Check. Gay marriage? No.

--Scumbags.

--Speaking of scumbags, so Aaron Hernandez was (somehow) acquitted of double-homicide, then hanged himself in his cell with a bedsheet, the same day the Super Bowl-winning Patriots visited the White House. If you think that's a coincidence, I want to drink your Kool-Aid. This is what narcissistic sociopaths do, right to the bitter end. That'll show them, he thought.



Photo: from the Huffington Post, at this website


--He also scribbled John 3:16 on his forehead. It reads: "For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in [H]im may not perish, but may have life everlasting." That's a narcissistic That'll show 'em, too. Again, all about him. That's not religious belief. That's self-importance. And power. Actual religious people are the ones not killing people. This act is an offense to every Christian out there. Narcissistic sociopaths will do anything, and believe anything, that benefits them. Unless you think he was actually seriously religious. Again, I'll take a glass of that.



Photo: Tom and Gisele, from the International Business Times, at this website. These two are so used to the limelight that they know they'll look better together if they're looking in opposite directions.

--I normally don't give a damn about the politics or beliefs of my favorite athletes, but I have to give kudos to Tom Brady, who at the last minute pulled out of a visit to the White House this week. He'll deny it was a political move, but a) Gisele posted an anti-Trump tweet this week (and as Gisele goes, Tom Brady goes); and b) Tom Brady has been quoted many times supporting Trump, speaking for him, and basically being Defense Exhibit A of why I don't care about the politics of my favorite athletes (See also: Curt Schilling). But to blow off Trump at the last second on a worldwide stage is a gutsy move, because we all know it will anger him. And it speaks very loudly, no matter what PC spin all three will put on it. I don't know why he did it (except, as Gisele goes, so does Tom Brady), but I'm glad he did. I might actually try his workout and diet plans, too. Which are really out there.

--Prince died a year ago. I can't believe I just typed that, but it's so.




Photo: from entertainment.ie, here





--There've been idiots in American politics since there's been an America, but Sean Spicer must be the most verbally handicapped one I've ever seen--and I've been keeping track since 2001. He makes Dubya look like he actually passed Yale with his own intellectual capacity. Dubya is an Oxford don next to this guy. If all the crap Spicer said before this week didn't open your eyes, drop your jaw and make you shake your head like a wet dog, surely this week's verbal diarrhea did it for you. Hitler didn't use gas?!? Holocaust centers?!? Bottom line: this is a national spokesman who cannot speak. And this doesn't just shock and awe Americans. It pisses off people across the world, including Germans, who haven't been our biggest fans since Trump refused to shake Andrea Merkel's hand, twice. What is it with this administration's problem with Jews, anyway? (Look up "Trump" and "National Holocaust Museum.") Now that O'Bannon is out, let's see what happens. If nothing does, we'll have to face the fact that it isn't just him, but the entire administration. (P.S.--It's all of them.)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Don't Believe Everything You Read and Hear: Ty Cobb, A Terrible Beauty



Photo: from the book's Goodreads page (and from my review)

I've got a major sinus infection and fever, that the doctor said looked like strep or the flu, and she just said she thinks I should be out of action for at least three days, so forgive the lack of structure here. Doing my best...

As Shakespeare's Caesar showed us (and Orwell's Animal Farm), when someone in charge repeats something often enough, the masses believe it. (Defense Exhibit A: Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Exhibit B: Everything Mr. Orange said to win the chair he never sits in.)  Charles Leerhsen's Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty attempts to show that everything we've thought, read and seen in a movie lately about Ty Cobb is either fiction, exaggerated, or misleading.

He largely succeeds, but he gets carried away with his own success. He inserts lame jokes into the text. He happily shows how he's correct and writers like Al Stump aren't. He's right, but does he have to be so gleeful and boastful about it? And most of the errors he points out about Cobb aren't direct falsehoods, but errors of degree. Was Cobb the psychotic we've learned about? No, he wasn't. But would you choose him over Honus Wagner to be on your team? No, you wouldn't. The Tigers desperately needed him, so they coddled him for as long as they needed to, but that was not a happy family in Detroit. Speaking of happy families, Cobb's mother did shoot his father, and Cobb apparently was emotionally and perhaps physically abusive to his kids, and perhaps his wife.

He favors Cobb with such a bias that he writes: "In Honus Wagner [the Pirates] had a marquee star who had almost all of Cobb's ability and none of his charisma..." (223). Now, there's a lot wrong there. Not so fast. Wagner had ALL of Cobb's abilities--including hits (Cobb 4,189; Wagner 3,420) average (.366 to .328) and stolen bases (963 to 897). The point isn't that Wagner surpassed the numbers; the point is we're talking about 2 all-time greats playing at the same time, amassing very similar numbers. And Wagner never saw the live ball era of the 1920s as Cobb did. Wagner retired in 1917 while Cobb hung up his spikes in 1928. Had they played during exactly the same years, their numbers would be closer. Though Cobb may have a slight edge with the bat, the numbers show that Wagner could have matched them, but didn't. Why? Perhaps the Pirates didn't need him to.

But the point Leerhsen never makes in his whole 400+ page book is that on defense for his career, Cobb owes 10 games to the Tigers (his defensive WAR is -10), while for his career Wagner gives his team +21 wins on defense. That's a swing of 30 games, which Cobb's 38 points of batting average, 700 hits and 66 stolen bases don't compensate for. (Cobb played 3 more years than Wagner, and Honus never saw the lively ball of the 20s.) Cobb was known as an average to below-average defender, at best, while Wagner made other players' jaws drop at shortstop. He played Gold Glove- caliber defense every day, according to his contemporaries, in The Glory of their Times. All of the players said Wagner was better than Cobb because of Wagner's defense, and that they all stood around and watched as Wagner hit. Nobody says that about Cobb.

Also consider Cobb's behavior. Leerhsen makes it clear that he was nowhere near the crazy butthole everyone thinks--but he also makes it clear that he was a pain in the ass to his own teammates, to anyone who got in his way on the basepaths (I can let that slide, as the players did. See what I did there?), to the team management that usually coddled him and adopted him, and to fans, both for him and against him. Did Cobb assault a black waiter? No, he didn't. Did he dislike African-Americans in general? The evidence says No, that he was indifferent, and that he was for them if they were good ballplayers, like how he spoke in favor of Jackie Robinson. Did he kill 3 people, as has been said? Nope.

But did he jump into the stands and beat the crap out of a paraplegic? Yes, he did! Did he slide with his spikes up? Yes, he did, but only if you were in his direct line on the basepaths. And if you were at a base, including home, he usually slid away from you. Did he say bad things to almost everyone, including his teammates, kids and wives? Yes. Did he drink too much as he got older and turn nasty? Yes, he did. You get the idea. Now, did Wagner do any of those things while active? Was the whole Pirates team against him? Did he piss off his ownership? Did he assault the disabled and chase after umpires and fight almost every guy he knew? Nope. And does that translate into a better team, so that it could be said that he helped his team by not being a butthole like Cobb was? You bet. (Though, like Cobb, Wagner drank too much when he got old. But while alcohol made Cobb angry, bitter and mean, the sauce just made Wagner babble incessantly, and start baseball stories that could last an afternoon.) In a nutshell, that's the argument Bill James makes when he says that Ted Williams was a better hitter than Stan Musial, but not a better ballplayer (or left fielder).

It's not clear by the numbers that Cobb was that much better than Wagner with the bat (though I'll concede the point that he may have been a little bit, like Ruth over Gehrig), but it's also very clear that Wagner was the much better defender and clubhouse presence. I don't give much credence usually to the latter, but I do when we're talking about a chronic problem like Cobb, though he may not have been the psychotic we've been led to believe he was. Having read this book, I see him now as a Jimmy Piersall type of neurotic, a nervous and anxiety-ridden guy, with an ability ten thousand times that of Piersall. But essentially the same temperament.

So that's what we've got here. The author makes the mistake of celebrating himself too much--ironic, since that's what he shows Cobb did too much, which made his teammates dislike him. He was better than they were, and different, and smarter, and faster, and that also made them dislike him. In fact, the T206 guys on his team actively bullied him, to the point that a few of them were suspended by the team. I don't criticize Cobb for this, though one would think he could have somehow handled it better. After all, Wagner was better than all of the Pirates of his time, and nobody taunted him or beat him up, even when he was a rookie. But Leerhsen says at least 12 times (I stopped counting) that Wagner (and Lajoie, and Elmer Flick, and other HOFers of the time) were grunts with a lunchpail, guys who would be in the mines without baseball, boring guys with no personality--I'm not making this up, or exaggerating. Leerhsen calls them these things.

Well, hell, I used to know a lot of people I thought were interesting, who did a lot of crazy things, who hurt a lot of good people, either emotionally, mentally or physically (or all of the above), but weren't they fun and exciting? But then I grew up, and I saw that stable and consistent behavior is a helluva lot more interesting than the crazy, destructive and self-destructive crap I saw the "exciting" people do. Those latter people flamed out, or exited from my life, stage left, (or both) and I replaced them with stable and consistent people with different things about them that were exciting and interesting.

Which ones would you rather work with for 20+ years? Exactly. Turns out, consistent and stable people make your job (and therefore your life) easier. Leerhsen gets caught up in his own cult of personality, like Cobb did in his, and it made them both pale in comparison.

So if you like the T206 era as I do, and you're interested in who Ty Cobb was, like I am, you should read this, and you'll find it interesting. It's informative, it sets the matter of Cobb straight, and it's a good read.

But like those guys who keep repeating the same thing, and it's believed because it's on the internet, or it's in print, or it's what you want to hear, or it's said by someone in some sort of power--Well, don't believe everything you read, you know? Ironic, because that's the point of this book, and Leerhsen proves his point in a way that he doesn't want to. But there it is.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Decay and Disgust in 1664 London -- The Sweet Smell of Decay, a Book Review


Photo: from the book's Goodreads page.

I really liked this book despite its inconsistency. Some parts are very well-written, and some...well, aren't. Very odd. You can get a paragraph or two, or a few pages, with exceptional prose, or description; but then suddenly you get a dead-weight clunker of a paragraph, or sometimes just a line or two. There are shifts in tone, too. Suddenly--and I mean you can hear the screeches--a character becomes shady. Suddenly a scene changes, or you can't see it clearly. Towards the end there's a well-drawn action scene--and then suddenly you're at a trial, and it's very drawn-out. And the main character, Harry Lytle, does this and does that, and seemingly never stops, to do anything, and you realize that can't be, and it all doesn't come together, but it's okay because you're reading about yourself going through the motions as Lytle, and that's enough. In fact, that's the point, and undoubtedly the author's intent.

Very tough to explain.

But despite it all, you have a main character who is likable in his opaqueness. Who is he? What does he do? Not really ever explained, but he's a common enough bloke, and he's supposed to be you, the reader. He's just accessible enough to be us. We're the ones doing what he's doing, seeing what he's seeing. That transition is so seamless, you don't even realize it happened.

1664 London is really the main character, and it is supported well. The mystery isn't really mysterious. (The plot is more of a mystery, if you know what I mean.) It's all explained at the end, not very well, as the bow falls off and isn't neatly tied. But you won't care, because you're there for the sights and sounds of 1664 London, and you will get a lot of that, and you'll like it. The logistics of the ending is a head-scratcher, as are all of the characters when they take off their wigs to check for lice. Everyone's bald, and everything's filthy and gross, and 1664 London is just a disgusting place, where people get hanged but don't die, and their intestines are ripped out and burned and they don't die, and they're then tied hand and foot to horses and ripped apart, and if they still don't die, they're carted in a wheelbarrow to the nearest river and dumped in. And then their heads are stuck on a pike on a bridge or tower. And a prisoner about to die this way soils his pants, and that's described, and you realize that's what you're reading this for--the details, like you're there in 1664 London, and you're happy to be there by reading about it, because you sure as hell wouldn't really want to be there.

That's why this book works. If you like the history of historical fiction more than you like the fiction of historical fiction, you'll like this one. I'm on to the next, A Plague of Sinners.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks -- A Book Review


Photo: cover of the paperback book, from its Google.com page.

Very, very well-written account of a young girl's life on Martha's Vineyard and in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 1660s. Though the book is more known to be about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, it is really about this girl and her Puritan family. Narrated by Bethia, the book is a comparison between her life as an Other, and that of a native Wampanoag named Cheeshahteaumauk, called Caleb by Bethia's family after his Indian family dies of disease, probably smallpox. (He dies of disease, too, of consumption, not long after he became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.) This is a book, like all her others, to read and enjoy, and to learn from and emulate if you want to be a writer. I can someday hope to become nearly as good--though that is doubtful--but I cannot become better.

Bethia loves life on the island, despite its hardships. Let me rephrase: She loves the island more than she loves her life on it. Her chores and responsibilities are endless. She loses her parents and her younger sibling, all three in horrible ways. She can read and write and she has intelligence and opinions--all bad in 1660s Puritan Massachusetts, especially on the island. Her daily life, with and without her best friend Caleb, and her family, are equally interesting and distressing to read about.

She follows Caleb and her older brother to Harvard. Her brother is next in line to lead the family and to become a preacher like their father. Except, he's not intelligent, not good in the ways of leadership or human nature. He can't read as well as she, and he can't learn the Bible's languages as well as she. In fact, she's a helluva lot smarter than he is, and they both know it. In fact, Caleb, the "salvage," the other and the lesser in that time, is also smarter than he is in all of these things, and he knows that, too. Despite all this, Bethia goes to Harvard with them because it is her indentured servitude that will pay for her brother's education there, so that he can become more in their society than she can, though everyone knows she deserves it more. She steals a bit of an education while she can, eavesdropping on lessons, learning from the other students, etc., but it is not a life she is destined to overtly benefit from.

In lesser hands, Bethia would fall in love with Caleb, and run away with him, and such, but these are not ordinary hands, and she does not do this. Bethia as a child was confused about her true feelings for Caleb, and maybe she did have what we would call a crush on him for a few years, but overall she outgrows that, and they become perhaps even closer, a brother and sister that would have continued had he not died. She leaves with another man, rather happily, from that Harvard disaster, and lives in Italy for a time, before she comes back and sees Caleb in his final days. The book is told in three parts, the last of which is a bit more sad than perhaps it needed to be, but who am I to judge? It's all enthralling. You'll feel like you're there, and you'll care about everyone.

Brooks clearly is painting a parallel between Bethia's life in 1660s Puritan Massachusetts and that of women in 2000s America. She does this in every work, and continues to do so here. As usual, it is not overt, or heavily done, and you don't feel preached to. This outlook, again as usual, enhances the story and does not detract from it. In fact, that cultural comment is not the story. As always, her story is her story. Bethia and Caleb, two others in a career-long character list of strong others, are her vehicles to tell this story. They themselves are not the story, per se. This is a distinction that all writers trying to say something should understand: your characters tell the story, but your characters are not the story. They drive it, of course; the story is not a river and they the mere floaters. But the story is the tide, and the characters either swim with it, or they swim against it. Brooks is excellent--here, and especially in March, her Pulitzer-winner--at showing the tides of the times she sets her stories in. It is one of the many things she does masterfully.

So this book is a story of the time, but also of our time. There is an other of every time, as we see today. I suspect maybe a female of African-American or Mexican descent is writing a good book about that as I type this.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Get Out -- A Movie Review, Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of the movie review for Get Out. Yesterday's Part 1 is here.



Photo: from the movie's Wikipedia page. This is what white people like me, whatever that means, thought racists were when I saw this movie in 1988. Turns out, it's a lot more complicated than that. By the way, this movie has more relevance now than it should, so see it if you haven't. And don't expect factual accuracy. It's a depiction, a cinematic dramatization in broad strokes. It's not a documentary.

Yet Get Out says that the awareness of the...nervousness, or political-correctness, or even the awareness of the awareness of a biracial couple...is in fact part of the problem. Which of course it is. Maybe someday we'll live in a country where a biracial couple simply doesn't raise any eyebrows, anywhere, in any kind of person, pro or con, friend or foe. That isn't going to happen soon, since we've taken two steps back in this country, but we'll see.

But you can see maybe why this was such a ballsy movie to make. Especially today. Now, cynics that we usually are, we'd expect this movie to maybe--or maybe not--do okay its first weekend, maybe for interest or shock value, and then disappear once blockbusters like Kong and Logan are released at the same time. 

But I'm happy, and a little surprised, to say that it hasn't happened. It's hanging in there, in third place, right with those films. It's grossed over $100 million--on a budget barely over $4 million. Considering that, it's so far been more of a financial hit than Kong: Skull Island or Logan. That's saying something.

And it should be. It is (uncomfortably) funny--but it won't be for those who don't think biracial couples, or the reaction they can elicit from others, is funny. Frankly, if you're racist, you're not going to like this film. But I suspect racists know that, and are staying far away. I've seen shockingly scant mention of it from them in the news and on the internet, but then I'm not an internet crawler. Also, it's a good horror flick, once you get by the horror premise, which you're not really supposed to take seriously to begin with. There is actual unease and tension and suspense. Strangely so, for me, and it wasn't scary, exactly, for me, like other horror films have been. Like, The Exorcist, or The Silence of the Lambs.

So it's a ballsy film, and it's a good film, and it's doing really well, which means it's hit a nerve somewhere, and found a niche. You can expect to see more films like this now, perhaps not as good.

I will leave you with some positive reviews of the movie, which are written more succinctly than this one. They're all taken from the movie's Wikipedia page, which you can click on here.

Richard Roeper gave the film 3.5/4 stars, saying, "[T]he real star of the film is writer-director Jordan Peele, who has created a work that addresses the myriad levels of racism, pays homage to some great horror films, carves out its own creative path, has a distinctive visual style — and is flat-out funny as well." Keith Phipps of Uproxx praised the cast and Peele's direction, noting: "That he brings the technical skill of a practiced horror master is more of a surprise. The final thrill of Get Out — beyond the slow-building sense of danger, the unsettling atmosphere, and the twisty revelation of what’s really going on — is that Peele’s just getting started." Mike Rougeau of IGN gave the film 9/10, and wrote: Get Out's whole journey, through every tense conversation, A-plus punchline and shocking act of violence, feels totally earned. And the conclusion is worth each uncomfortable chuckle and moment of doubt." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated Get Out a 3.5/4, and called it: "[A] jolt-a-minute horrorshow laced with racial tension and stinging satirical wit." Scott Mendelson of Forbes praised how the film captures the current zeitgeist called it a "modern American horror classic".

So if this sounds good, or if you like horror/comedies, go see it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Get Out -- A Movie Review



Photo: from the movie's Wikipedia website


Get Out was a ballsy movie to make, considering our present climes. It's a horror movie with a good horror movie ending, but this is no horror movie. It's also a comedy with a message about racism that doesn't hit you over the head, or preach at you. This makes it even more effective. This movie tries to do for racism what Rosemary's Baby and Stepford Wives did for sexism, and it largely succeeds because Jordan Peele, Get Out's producer/director, was aware of those two movies. There's a bit of Kubrick's (and not King's) The Shining in there at the end, too, but luckily that guy doesn't end up like Scatman Crothers did.

I saw this with my better half, and we're both white. (I'm as boring, suburban white as Wonder Bread, but not as fluffy or as wholesome.) We sat next to a bi-racial couple, one white and one black, which is pretty rare for my suburban-hell neck of the woods. (See the movie juxtaposition I made there?) Normally this would not be relevant, but, unfortunately, for this review, and for this movie, it is. Just a sign o' the times.

A quick review of the movie: After a quick prologue of a young black man getting kidnapped, another young black man (the main character) and his pretty white girlfriend are off to a rural home to introduce him to her family. She hasn't told them he's black, by the way, which you know is not going to turn out well.

So the racial theme comes and it's played for laughs. This is ingenious, and if you think Peele is only playing it for laughs, then you don't know what kind of serious cultural change laughs can do. Like, All in the Family and Richard Pryor changed some views in the 70s and 80s. The point works because it's played funny. And in the funny, we feel the tension and disquiet, and realize it's not funny. This is a good movie for a collegiate class about film, comedy and horror. I'm going to let the following critic of The Guardian tell it, because I'm just fumbling here:

Lanre Bakare of The Guardian commented on this, saying, "The villains here aren't southern rednecks or neo-Nazi skinheads, or the so-called 'alt-right'. They're middle-class white liberals. The kind of people who read this website. The kind of people who shop at Trader Joe's, donate to the ACLU and would have voted for Obama a third time if they could. Good people. Nice people. Your parents, probably. The thing Get Out does so well – and the thing that will rankle with some viewers – is to show how, however unintentionally, these same people can make life so hard and uncomfortable for black people. It exposes a liberal ignorance and hubris that has been allowed to fester. It's an attitude, an arrogance which in the film leads to a horrific final solution, but in reality leads to a complacency that is just as dangerous."

In other words, the target audience was, in some ways, people like me, who like to think they're racially aware, and who like to think they're helping the cause, in whatever way they can. Now, I'm not liberal like this passage, thank God, but I do donate to the ACLU and I would've voted for Obama again. I don't shop at Trader Joe's. (In fact, I don't do the food shopping at all, because I'd buy just cereal, bananas, apples, blueberries, and green olives.) But it's also true that I don't know how to relate to someone who's a victim of racism. For example, I realized in my last movie review that I didn't even see why Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was racist itself (an irony, since it effectively shows how racism is a [see title]) until I read Chinua Achebe's speech about it. (Achebe was kinda right, kinda not, but more right than not. And, by the way, who am I to speak about racism?)

This is the point of the movie, which is hidden in trappings of comedy and horror. I can speak of racism only in the sense that I've seen it; I've written and spoken against it; I don't know what the hell it's all about; I don't know why so many people deny it exists; I don't get why people don't understand why African-Americans and other minorities are angry; I don't get why Samuel L. Jackson says Daniel Kaluuya, the main actor, isn't "black enough," and I don't get why I don't get that, because I get what such people think it means; and I also realize that I don't know enough about it to criticize Samuel L. Jackson, which I also realize isn't a smart thing to do to begin with, about anything at all, because he's scary. I used to think that racists only lived in the South, in a Mississippi Burning kind of way, but now I see that it's everywhere, including in the recent court decision about how Texas unconstitutionally re-districted itself to disillusion minority voters; about how voting ID laws in many states--including those as far north as PA and North Carolina--were purposely passed by Republicans to make it harder for the poor (reads: Democrat) to vote. I see that racism exists, or used to, in zoning laws, for God's sake, around here.

And in truth, Get Out is probably a more realistic depiction of racism than Mississippi Burning ever was. Maybe. Who am I to say?

This movie review of Get Out concludes tomorrow...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kong: Skull Island -- Movie Review and Kong Flick Comparison, Part 3

Note: this entry is the last of 3 about Kong: Skull Island. Part 1 is here, two days ago. Part 2 is here, from yesterday.



Photo: Kong and Apocalypse Now Crossover Shot. (Don't ask where the natives got the hydraulics necessary to build this.) From this IMDb page.

The movie might not make you feel smarter, but you'll perhaps nod along with some cultural references and homages, unless you were born after, say, 2001.

First, as you see in the poster above, there's a nod to 1986's Platoon. Speaking of war movies, there are a few very obvious nods to Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness. We've got major characters named Conrad (after Heart of Darkness's author, Joseph Conrad) and Marlow (after the main character in both Conrad's book and Francis Ford Coppola's movie, which takes place in Viet Nam [another nod] and is based on Conrad's book).

And the movie's most famous line--"The horror...the horror..."--is lifted directly off the pages of Conrad's book, without credit. Ugh.



Photo: The famous Apocalypse Now poster, from its IMDb page

If that wasn't enough, John C. Reilly's character is obviously Dennis Hopper's zany (and drugged-up) photographer from Apocalypse Now--a direct comparison. Almost an exact copy. And both novel and film is mostly about a boat trip up a river to capture someone who's thought to be very dangerous--and is--but who also has a shocking truth to tell, and whose anger and possible insanity is distressingly easy to understand and relate to. He is not what he seems, or what you've been told he is. Or what you'd expect. That's Kong in this movie, which you'll definitely see.

And Kong is Kurtz from the book and movie. And Kong and Kurtz are both worshiped by the jungle's natives (Conrad's Kurtz, from the book, is in the Congo, while the movie Kurtz is in Viet Nam.) And the choppers in the movie's poster is a direct reference to the famous opening of Apocalypse Now, with its choppers, and all three works, the book and the two Kong movies, all have the same theme: Mankind has a heart of darkness to all living things, including mankind.

Samuel L. Jackson's character is a mad Ahab from Moby Dick, but is even more a direct copy of his man-loving, man-is-all-powerful character from Deep Blue Sea. This is such an exact duplicate of that role that I'm a bit surprised that he hasn't come into more critical panning. True, Christoph Waltz won two Oscars for essentially playing the same role in consecutive Quentin Tarantino movies (and his turn in Inglorious Basterds was much better), but, still...Maybe Jackson would've been criticized more if his name had been, say, Brie Larson.

But I'm over it.

So if you like creature movies, and if you remember the Creature Double Feature flicks with a little fondness, and if you know your war movies, literature, and cultural references, or if you just like a good popcorn flick that's very fast-paced, that looks great, that has a directorial flair of its own, and that looks like a franchise that promises more of the same, go see it. It's right up there with Spielberg's original Jurassic Park, and with the latest Jurassic World, and with Jackson's King Kong, though maybe it finishes just a notch below these in overall value. Still, well worth your time.