Hell or High Water – Review

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On the plains of West Texas, two brothers systematically rob banks in a desperate attempt to save the family ranch, while a pair of Texas Rangers slowly piece together the evidence leading to a race against the clock. Director David Mackenzie’s new film Hell or High Water intelligently tackles issues of poverty and corporate greed while not losing the heart that leaves the audience thinking long after the last shot.

The Big Short

Last year’s masterpiece The Big Short opened our eyes to the ways in which the banking industry continually tries to find new methods to make money at our expense, and Hell or High Water feels like a spiritual successor to that theme. Toby’s mother was swindled by the bank into a loan that kept her just poor enough to never truly make ends meet. The bank’s goal is to be able to foreclose on her land, which happens to include an oil mine. Following her death, Toby enlists the help of his convict brother Tanner to rob the branches of the bank that has screwed them over in a plan to save the ranch and allow Toby to set it as a trust for his two sons. The parallels with The Big Short are clear, as both films show the financial system taking advantage of poor people and leaving them feeling powerless to overcome their situations.

On top of this, Toby says something profound about poverty, “I’ve been poor my whole life, like a disease passing from generation to generation. But not my boys, not anymore.” Poverty is so much more than just bad life decisions. It is something that can be passed down in families as people get caught in a maelstrom of systematic financial ruin due to a lack of choices and opportunities as well as unwise actions, in places as wide-ranging as the plains of West Texas to the inner city.

It’s not just the bad choices or lack of opportunity, it’s the depravity of human nature that accentuates the problem. One of the Texas Rangers, Alberto poignantly says, “All this was my ancestors’ land, the lease folks took it, and it’s been taken from them. Except it ain’t no army doing it, it’s those sons of bitches right there [as he points to the bank across the street].” From the beginning of time, since the Fall in the garden, humankind has been taking advantage of others for selfish gain, and this movie does a magnificent job of painting a very clear picture of how broken the world is.

Conclusion

Hell or High Water is the best movie I’ve seen this year. The themes, character work, direction and acting are fantastic. Don’t miss this movie. Hell or High Water is rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Star Wars: Life Debt – Review

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Last year during the craziness of Force Friday, fans tried to satiate their desire for anything Star Wars with new toys, coffee mugs, shirts and books. In all the mayhem, one book stood out from the rest as the one that people could not wait to devour, Aftermath. This was going to be the start of the new canon, the story of what happened after Return of the Jedi and set up for The Force Awakens. Sadly the reception for the first book, a planned trilogy, was lukewarm at best, leaving fans hoping that the second book would redeem the series.

Themes

There are a couple of interesting themes in the book. The first is the way in which the Empire looks to reestablish itself after all the losses it has sustained. It’s idea, propaganda.They will just feed the populous a fictitious narrative backed up by various acts of staged benevolence to sell the facade. There is an exchange in the book between Rae Sloane and and Gallius Rax that feels chillingly familiar,

“He stops her there. “Rae, do you know much about opera?”….“I know opera, though I am not an enthusiast.”
He clasps his hands together. “Become one. It will make our partnership more rewarding for you. Opera moves me. And yet none of it is real. Therein lies the crux of what you need to understand: Something does not need to be real for it to have an effect. The instruments and song, the drama and melodrama, the pathos and tragedy. It’s a lie. A fiction. And yet what happens on the stage speaks a kind of truth just the same. Facts and truth are separate things. I am more interested in truth than I am fact. I am comfortable with artifice when it suits our needs. And here, it does.”

The idea of truth as weaponized artifice created at will, and that facts are not really important, is the best theme of the book.

Second main theme is the struggle of the New Republic to establish itself in the galaxy, finish the war with the Empire and continue to bring freedom to enslaved planets. It is clearest in the character of Mon Mothma and her reluctance to liberate Kashyyyk or to truly see what needs to be done to finish off the Empire for good. She’s become tired of war, looking at people as numbers in equations instead of living beings with a right to life. She’s looking for ways to demilitarize before the war is truly one, sticking her head in the sand and crafting a narrative for herself that they’ve done enough. It’s powerful, poignant and sadly all too commonplace today. The theme is crystallized in Leia’s conversation with Mon Mothma,

“We argue,” Leia says suddenly, “about whether it is the time to build up the military or to dampen its effect. And all the while we forget that we have the privilege of arguing from comfortable chairs many parsecs away. We argue about what’s prudent or what’s practical while people suffer. Do you know what people want to see from the New Republic? Do you, truly?”
Mon cedes the floor. “Please.”
“They want us to be heroes.”
A moment passes where everyone chuckles uncomfortably. At least until they realize she’s quite serious.
Mon says: “I know. You’re not wrong. And you are a hero, and you helped us all be the heroes needed to get to this point. But such passion and idealism have to be tempered by reality. This is a government. It has a lot of moving pieces.”
Leia stiffens. “And that is where we’ll fail. This isn’t a machine, Chancellor. When did we start to see this as a government and not a collection of people helping people? We’ve started seeing…territories and battle logistics and votes. We’ve stopped seeing hearts and minds and faces. The more we do that, the more we lose. Of ourselves. Of the galaxy”

Frustratingly, the themes of the book are not truly fleshed out to really give them the resonance they deserve. They are there and that is a positive, but they lack the followthrough to ring clear as they should.

The Story

The story is pretty simple. A new leader begins to emerge in the fractured Empire, who has  a plan to destabilize the New Republic. His plan has it’s fingers in every part of the story as he channels his inner Palpatine, using Han’s desire to liberate Kashyyyk in an attempt to deal the New Republic a serious blow and weed out road blocks in the Empire to his rule.

Characters

One of the complaints about Aftermath was favoring new characters over established ones, and that failed to resonate. In Life Debt, readers are given more of Han, Leia, Mon Mothma, Wedge, Chewie and a few others; this should be a plus.

The problem is they are not written in a recognizable way and they lose any recognizable voice (except Chewie). When using established characters, the most important thing in tie-in fiction is to write them so they sound like themselves. When you read the dialogue, you should be able to hear the actor’s voice.

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The new characters do not fair much better. Norra Wexly and her motley crew are relegated to CW melodrama, as bad romances are popping up all over, plus there is a twist worthy of Days of Our Lives. Unfortunately these characters are just not given interesting arcs or written well enough to be stimulating.

Conclusion 

Life Debt is all over the place. It lacks the focus to tell a good story. There is too much going on and none of the stories feels coherent enough to be satisfying. The best storyline is about the Empire as it slowly morphs into what will become the First Order. If this had been the major focus, like Lost Stars it could have been great. I had hoped that with the release of The Force Awakens that Life Debt would benefit from more freedom and opportunity to give us the old characters.

Sadly it all feels as hollow as a burned-out wroshyr tree. Life Debt is rated 2 out of 5 stars.

Suicide Squad – Review

suicide-squad-movie-2016-posterThe 602 Club Review.

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As the would continues to reel from the death of Superman, the U.S. Government wonders what it is going to do without the alien. Having realized how fortunate they were to have a person that shared their values they now worry that the next “superman” might not and if that is the case, who’s going to stop them? Amanda Waller has a plan. She will take the the worst villains and form Secret Task Force X, a group that can be sent against threats while at the same time, thrown under the bus if the mission goes south. Director David Ayer brings this motley crew to life with a deft hand and continues the DC Comics universe. It’s a comic book movie unlike any other and in world crowded with “Franchise” films, it’s a welcome change of pace.

Total Depravity  

The most interesting moment thematically happens in a bar, as the “heroes” begin to share how they got where they are. Diablo tells the heartbreaking story of losing everything that was important to him because his anger caused him to lose control of his power and murder his family. Harley Quinn tells him that he should own who he is, as Boomerang tells her that while she may be pretty on the outside, the inside is dark. She responds back that we’re all dark. It was a well drawn picture of the total depravity of human kind. As Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…”. Each and every character, no matter who they are in the film has darkness in them, even the “good guys”Amanda Waller and Rick Flag, no one is clean. No matter the facade we create we are all as white-washed tombs.  

What is fascinating, is to see that unless the character is psychotic, they long to be better than they are. Deadshot wants his daughter to know him as more than an assassin, Rick Flagg wants to save the woman he loves and Diablo wants to find a way to atone for what he’s done. The struggle of humanity is alive in these characters.

Deal With the Devil

If you could make a deal with the devil for you soul but you would receive in return your heart’s desire, what would that be? What do you worship above all else that you would give anything for? It’s the question that a few of the characters face at the end of the film as Enchantress entices them to join her and in return she will give them what the desire most. The answer was telling, what they want most is a relationship, to be known and loved by someone. Even Harley Quinn wants to be “normal”, two kids and a Joker that is not “The Joker” but a man that works 9-5 and is a loving husband and father. It brings back the picture of Isaiah of each of us going our own way, trying get what we want through our own means yet never achieving it. It’s why the second part of the verse says, “…and the LORD has laid on him, the iniquity of us all.” We cannot be made clean though our own means, what we put on the throne of our lives will determine who we are. Even the good things of family, relationship and love are not strong enough to save us. The world has part of the answer, we are all meant to be know fully and loved, not just temporally but eternally.

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The Movie

One of the real strengths of the film is the way that it uses the existing DC universe. With Superman dead the U.S. Government worries who will protect it from the rising meta-human treat. Plus (Spoilers), this movie also leads directly in to Justice League and why Bruce Wayne is so keen to create a group of heroes. Which, in and of itself is another interesting theme as he looks to create a group of friends, whereas Waller uses leverage and blackmail to get what she wants.

The Joker is completely different from Nolan and Ledger’s which is wise, but also just as creepy. In fact, he feels more like the comic book Joker in many ways, he even has goons that run around in goofy carnival suits which is just unnerving. Honestly, Joker is a minor character in the movie and that is fine. It’s a real strength of the movie that neither Batman or Joker take over the movie, like a comic book they are in a section, play their part and then fade to the background.

Margot Robbie is perfect as Harley Quinn, she looks and feels like the character we’ve know since Batman: The Animated Series. Will Smith is his usual, bad-ass self as Deadshot and his swagger is perfect for the role. Viola Davis is terrifying as Amanda Waller. She is uncompromising and ruthless. Who I want to see more of is Karen Fukuhara as Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana. She has a presence on screen and the small parts of her story that leak out in the film make me excited to see her again.

Conclusion

Suicide Squad is fun, different and full of interesting themes. The DC Comics universe continues to blossom and it’s a joy to behold. It’s wonderful to see the DC films completely embrace the comic book universe where supermen and magic all exist side by side and that’s just the way it is. Like Kevin Smith, I cannot wait to see it again and I have a feeling my rating may only go up. This film is rated 3.75 out of 5 Bat sightings.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Review

911Xmhn9+rLWhen J.K. Rowling entered Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, one of the most contested parts was the ending that took place nineteen years later with the gang and their families at platform 9 3/4. Interestingly enough, this is exactly where the new book, the script of the play just released in London’s West End, begins. The story introduces us fully to Albus, Harry’s middle son and his struggle growing up in the shadow of the world’s savior. The story is poignant and had me choking back tears as I found myself in love with the world of Harry Potter all over again.

Past Suffering

Rowling has never downplayed the struggle of life or it’s unfairness. In direct opposition to so much of popular entertainment, the Harry Potter books have always embraced the ideas of suffer and death as natural. It’s echoed beautifully in the script when Dumbledore’s portrait tells Harry,

“Harry, there is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world. Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe.”

It’s a powerful reminder to us all that life is not fair and that suffering is part of all our experiences. Suffering cannot be avoided, therefore you can only control how you let it affect you, mold you and teach you.

Suffering can often lead to the desire to change the past or into destructively obsessing over it, leaving us stuck. The Cursed Child‘s plot is a clear picture of what happens when we mess with time in such ways. Our past, our suffering, our experience make us who we are and the only thing that can change is the future. Harry points this out to Draco in the latter half of part two,

“Love blinds. We have both tried to give our sons, not what they needed, what what we needed. We’ve been so busy trying to rewrite our own pasts, we’ve blighted their present.”

Albus is struggling with all of these things plus the thought that he should have done better. This feeling drives him to do something that puts the entire world in extreme peril. So often we as humans are so hard on ourselves, willing to give grace to everyone else but us. Harry lovingly reminds Albus that both of the men that he’s named after were great, but also deeply flawed, we all are. We can do better and the future is wide open for us to, not though self flagellation but though using the lessons of the past change our future.

Conclusion

There are so many continuing Rowling themes in The Cursed Child, family, friendship, the power of love and the nature of life itself; I am honestly still mulling them over. What I can say for certain, this is a worthy addition to the Harry Potter story. Rowling has said that this will be the final story for Harry and if so it’s wonderful to know, all is well. The Cursed Child is rated 4.5 out of 5 wands.

Star Trek Beyond – Review

international-posterIn 2009 J.J. Abrams introduced the world to what is now known as the “Kelvin Timeline” in Star Trek giving us a whole new way to look at and experience the iconic characters from The Original Series. In this third movie Justin Lin has taken over the dictatorial reins and given us a film worth of Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary.

Purpose and Identity 

Star Trek Beyond finds the Enterprise 3 years into it’s 5 year mission exploring deep space and Kirk is beginning to have questions. “Why are we out here?” What is my purpose?” “Do I really want to be doing this?” Each one of these has been plaguing him as they chart unknown. The vastness of space as left Kirk feeling directionless and without purpose. Kirk even says in the movie, “It’s hard to feel grounded when even the gravity is artificial”. He has gotten so lost in the routine of life, that perspective has become skewed. It brings to mind the struggles of Kirk from The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, yet this time, Kirk is thinking of becoming an Admiral. It’s something we have only seen in books, the thought process that would lead Starfleet’s best captain to take a desk job.

Krall, the villain of the film is a mirror for Kirk in the movie. He’s a man who was so beholden to one thing in life that when life required him to grow, learn and move forward he found it impossible. As Kirk begins to learn more about his adversary he begins to find his own sense of purpose again, he’s out in space to help protect as many lives as he can, because all lives matter. Kirk is in space to learn, grow and help humanity do the same.

Both Kirk and Spock in the film are also facing the question of identity. Kirk has spent his time in Starfleet trying to be his father and live up to that legacy. McCoy tells him, “You spent all this time trying to be your father, now you’re wondering just what it means to be you.” Whereas Spock is struggling with his identity as a Vulcan and therefore his responsibility to them as they rebuild, which is heightened in light of Ambassador Spock’s death. Each one of these men must found out what it means to be themselves, to escape the shadow of father’s and mentors and chart their own course. What is beautiful about the movie is that they both find their identity and purpose in helping the other become the best versions of themselves and in protecting others.

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How We Grow

The idea of being able to grow as a person and society is a huge theme in the film. Krall has found himself unable to move from the past. He sees struggle, war and strife as the only true ways for a race to test themselves. Kirk reminds him that if all we do is continually wage war on the battles of yesterday, then we will be stuck in the past. It brings to mind John F. Kennedy’s words that inspired a whole generation,

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Adversity though war and infighting is not the only way to grow, choosing to do the impossible, with only hope as your guide is a powerful force for change. Humanity grows best when it learns from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them again. Unity in mission and purpose, serving something greater than yourself is the best way to do that.

It’s the strength of the Federation to have unity, bringing together many different people for a common purpose and goal. In the film, this is also reflected on a smaller scale in the crew of the Enterprise. It is their commitment to each other, their working together in concert, each using their gifts to the best of their ability that help them solve the problems they face. It is a nice mirror for what Paul says in 1 Corinthians about the body of Christ, each working together through their God given gifts for the betterment of the other and in service to something much greater than the individual.

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The Movie

There are a couple things I don’t like about the film. One, I am not crazy about the action editing which often leaves the viewer wondering what just happened. It is so fast and cut so quick that it is sometimes hard to see or understand what transpired. I also have to say there were no surprises about the story, I leaned over to my wife a few times and called all the “reveals” or plot points well in advance.

What the movie does do well are the characters. The way in which we see them interact and grow is spot on and the introduction to Jaylah is a joy. Here’s to hoping that this is not the last time we see her in Star Trek. On top of all of this, Michael Giacchino has crafted a beautiful score that harkens back to The Motion Picture in some places as well as the best from every Trek movie since.

Star Trek Beyond is a fantastic way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and with the announcement of a 4th film coming in the “Kelvin Timeline”, the future is bright. The film is rated 4 out of 5 detached saucer sections.

Life Matters

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Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31 ESV)

What we are seeing is about the systematic disrespect of life. The moment you can dehumanize a baby in the womb or a creed or race or a profession you loose the respect for life. Respect for life can only come from the belief that all lives are crafted and created by God, made in his image and therefore have supreme value. Without this as the foundation, life is cheap, meaningless and utterly devoid of meaning. All lives matter to God and therefore all lives matter to me.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16 ESV)

Let us come together, anger, hate, fear only lead to more of the same, so let us live by the words of Christ, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 ESV).

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I highly encourage the reading of Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice. The best book I have ever read on social justice.

X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

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It’s already been a summer of superheroes with Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War, many people may have forgotten that there was a new X-Men movie as well. Following up Bryan Singer’s Days of Future Past, the team finds itself in the middle of the 80s and an ancient power has awoken which could mean the end of the world as we know it. X-Men: Apocalypse is just as much about it’s characters as it is about spectacle. Singer knows we come to see them and watch them grow and the film does not disappoint.

Magneto’s Struggle

Eric’s story line is one of the most poignant. After the events of Days of Future Past, he has retired to Poland, works in a steel mill, married a woman (he told her who he was the first night they met) and they have a child. He’s happy in the small life he created until an accident at the mill forces him to use his powers to save a fellow worker. Word gets out who he is and before he and his family can escape, the local police capture his daughter, who is killed in a showdown. Enraged, Eric lashes out at the men, killing them all, leaving him screaming to the heavens, “Is this all I am?”. He cannot seem to escape the darkness within. It’s a clear reminder that there is something inside all of us that we cannot control, that is dark and evil and by ourselves we are powerless to control it. In the movie, it’s Charles, Raven and Quicksilver that help bring Eric back to the light, it’s part of the answer, to realize we cannot do it alone, dimly reflecting the truth of,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 ESV)

Better Together

Apocalypse, also known as En Sabah Nur, believes himself to be a god among men. He believes that his power instills in him the right to rule. The gifts that he was born with have been used to benefit himself alone. On the opposite side you have the X-Men who learn to harness their power and use it for others and the betterment of the world around them. It’s a beautiful picture of what the Apostle Paul talks about in Corinthians when he discusses spiritual gifts,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11 ESV)

The X-Men series has always been about coming together and Apocalypse is no different. in the fight against En Sabah Nur neither Magneto or Charles is strong enough to destroy him, it takes, Scott Summers, Jean Grey working in concert with everyone else to save the world. Thinking about the film brought the next part of the Corinthian passage to mind,

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20 ESV)

Each member of the team has a gift, that when combined with the others makes them even stronger. The gifts are meant to be used for the welfare of all of humanity and cannot hoard for ourselves, because we need each other. Each person brings strengths and weaknesses to the table and united we form a more perfect union. apocalypse-180759

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this movie. I love the new cast they have playing the younger versions of the people we know from the previous films and Quicksilver is still one of the best things in superhero films. The rest of the character work has me excited for what comes next in the series as hopefully we move to the 90s. Side note, this is how you make a joke about a Star Wars film. This film is rated 3.75 out of 5.