The Joshua Tree

The Joshua Tree—hmm, maybe I am too hard on it—but at another time in my life I admired it as a rare spiritually-themed album and it resonated with me. Do I now miss something about this unique album?

It meant more to me then than it seems to do now. I took this album on the road with me as I went on a sort-of “quest”, a spiritual quest really, trying to drain the spirituality I thought was in the album into my soul.

What were those spiritual themes?

Continue reading “The Joshua Tree”

A Passage to India

A Passage to India is a grand and lavish epic, produced handsomely, and is based on the E.M. Forster novel, published in 1924 during the days of colonial England.

The values of East and West meet romantically, but also comes with a hefty dose of realism where East and West clash. British daughter-in-law and mother-in-law travel to India to with be with her fiancé and explore this exotic country. But she is caught up in a scandal and claims an Indian doctor, who was her escort on a day trip, violated her. Controversy erupts and the locals stand by the doctor, saying he is innocent and the British are unjust.

The larger meaning is the relationship between England and colonial India. The human meaning is prejudice and fear of the unknown.

Beautifully filmed, wonderfully acted, it is also a personal story of life-like characters engaged vividly and vitally.

A Passage to India, Director: David Lean, Genre: Drama, Year: 1984, Rating: 10/10

Heidi (1937)

I happened to hire out this DVD for a relative, but I watched it and really enjoyed it.

I have known about Heidi but hadn’t been impelled to engage in it.

Having had a nosy on the internet, it’s based on the Johann Spyri children’s book, published in the late 1800’s. The story of Heidi has since been adapted for television and the movie screen many times.

I hired out the Shirley Temple one. It’s the color version, so there may be a black and white original.

In ten minutes I was hooked in to this sweet movie.

Heidi’s Grandfather Adolph (Jean Hersholt) is huddled away in the snowy Swiss Alps. He looks after Heidi (Shirley Temple) when her parents die and the silent and detached man becomes fond of her. Their friendship grows warmly.

Despite Adolph having had a chip on his shoulder, against people and God, his faith in God and others comes back to life. This movie is therefore spiritual as well as for a thoughtful mood. It’s also got real life themes.

As the story goes, Heidi really wants to be with Adolph, but is moved around by others. Upset by Heidi’s departure from the Alps, Adolph walks to Frankfurt to bring her back.

At Frankfurt, she becomes friends with a wheelchair-bound invalid, who is the daughter of a wealthy widower, and Heidi brings much life and joy into her life.

Adolph making it to Frankfurt is time bound, but works in making the viewer even more eager to find out what will happen next.

Some of the plot is neatly sown together, but complications arise also. This movie is most of all warm-hearted and uplifting.

Heidi, Director: Allan Dwan, Genre: Family drama, Year: 1937, Rating: 8/10

12 Years a Slave

I expected 12 Years a Slave  to be handsomely mounted and richly literate, reminiscent of films in the 1980’s. But now that I’ve seen it I realize it’s already  a classic.

As well as being strikingly produced, it shows the painful plight of African American slaves in white-owned plantations in the South before the American Civil War and the success of the abolition movement.

The film starts by telling us this is a true story.

The buying and selling slaves is then shown as business-as-usual.

Paul Giamatti has a small but prominent role as a seller, costumed finely like many other Southern men in the 1840s.

The dubious economics of the endeavor are revealed as the story unfolds, while the class system is starkly depicted along with the slave owners’ depravity.

All the cruelty occurs in the context of Solomon Northup’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) descent from a comfortable life in New York state where he lived as a free black man.

Sold into slavery and passing from master to master, he at first wants revenge. This turns to helplessness, then  the urge to survive even when facing indignities and institutional savagery.

Powerful scenes will sober and stir any viewer.

Of course, we are not meant to enjoy such brutality, but it has a way of highlighting the unfairness of slavery.

The rape of a slave is not about sex. It’s more about control, power and hate.

And if it weren’t for Brad Pitt’s small but important role, the story would be bleak and incomplete.

Central to a string of powerful performances is Michael Fassbender – a Bible mis-quoting, proud, senseless, shameless, and ruthless master of Northup.

And when his cotton crops fail, he blames his slaves for bringing God’s punishment.

We expect something better to happen, but we don’t know how when the odds are heavily stacked against it.

Perhaps the central question of 12 Years a Slave  is how do we maintain our dignity in the face of cruelty and injustice?

Northup plays games, fights back, and faces getting killed.

Slavery has almost broken his will to live, and yet he remains human.

This is a powerful film, a must-see, but it is grim and not for every taste

12 Years a Slave, Director: Steve McQueen, Genre: Drama, Year: 2013, Rating: 10/10

Purpose

Justin Bieber is not an artist I have followed so I can’t categorize Bieber as one of the artists I follow. I must have ignored his seven other albums at my peril going by the screaming throngs of teenage girls at his concerts.

But I did like the sound of his single What Do You Mean and so picked the album with another 12 Bieber tracks on it.

What Do You Mean is electronic sounding pop that sounds clean and polished; it is smooth groove and makes one listen. It’s got moderately complex lyrics. I wanted more.

Bieber’s Purpose is a soft pop album that is ambient and fresh. There are thirteen tracks with the odd one out being “Children”. On the surface, “Children” is a departure from the album’s theme of a difficult relationship.

Although Bieber is singing about the love and break up of a relationship, the album isn’t overall bitter or nasty. The one unkind word is “Love Yourself”, which was a sour note.

Purpose doesn’t bore. From a quietly effective rap to ambient infused chords, but there are quibbles: it may be too long and the album comes around to themes that are off-putting.

Although Purpose was a pick of mine, it didn’t entirely shine on the day. I thought about how the lovers in the songs dealt with love and consequences.

Purpose is edgy in the sense that a parent wouldn’t want their daughter, who may listen to Purpose, to experience a love meltdown, but to somehow do a relationship a better way.

Album: Purpose, Artist: Justin Bieber, Genre: Soft pop, Year: 2015, Rating: 5/10

 

Within Reach

While I am not enthusiastic about Rick Cua as a career artist, his albums are middling if not mediocre with a few flourishes, I am keen on Midnight Sun and Within Reach which were better, released around the turn of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Within Reach is Rick Cua’s best album. The Christian pop rocker released about half-a-dozen albums during the 1980’s and 1990’s and one in 2007.

Within Reach instantly hooks you in to the album that doesn’t let you down after a good start. It’s consistently engaging and sometimes is thought provoking.

Opening track Message of Love grabs you by the ears and the mind with an image: “I’m going climb up on a mountain, climb up on the top, declare the Lord’s mercy and pray the pain will stop.” Throughout the album, the words tend to be simple, but vivid.

Fatherly

Within Reach is aimed at young people mainly. The album could have been preachy and turn off listeners because Cua is offering a way to life, but it all works and is not off-putting. Cua is fatherly in a brother to brother manner. His voice is without a hint preachy.

The fatherly instincts of a pastor (Cua’s other career) are evident on tracks like Fifteen, a song about growing up while keeping the faith.

On Somewhere Tonight he seems to be adviser, a thought provoking number about thinking about the poor in our midst and offering a helping hand.

On Stand Your Ground, Cua is upfront and encourages ones to be unafraid of standing up for their Christian beliefs and faith and Cua rocks it through the roof saying it loud and proud.

For seasoned rockers, Within Reach may be too soft and straight forward. But for others, it’s got it where it counts: sound and words merge in a cogent pop rock harmony of faith and life. Get ready to rock!

Album: Within Reach, Artist: Rick Cua, Genre: Christian Pop Rock, Year: 1991, Rating: 8/10

Revenge of the Sith

In Revenge of the Sith, the interest really lies for this reviewer in the telling of the story of young Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace.

Everyone knows the ending. Interestingly, audiences are watching how a good human being turns into becoming a wicked, mean-spirited and mechanized dictator (see The Empire Strikes Back for ample evidence of unleashing Darth Vader).

In Star Wars creator George Lucas’ finale of the prequel trilogy the result is effective in portraying a conflicted individual who concedes to the dark side because of personal ambition and quest for significance.

Your sympathies may be potentially touched in feeling for the like-able Anakin who said as an idealistic ten-year-old in The Phantom Menace that what is wrong with the universe is that no one cares for one another.

In this episode, Anakin’s trainer, a matured Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), tries to keep the reigns on his apprentice, but unsuccessfully.

This is one Hollywood movie where the conflict primarily fixates on the internal character rather than just the external obstacles. It’s saying that Anakin missed out on acquiring knowledge in his situation which would have given him wisdom and foresight.

Despite the darkness going on, there are good messages in the movie – adoption of children for those that cannot have them, faithfulness, loyalty, and friendship are all interwoven.

Despite the movie’s faults and depending on your level of commitment to the saga the viewing process may be emotionally strong and symbolically rich.

Come to visualize the Star Wars series, it all comes together fluidly as a whole now.

Revenge of the Sith cohesively sits between the other movies of the series–though won’t be as popular because it’s darker and morose and we don’t really want to go there too often. But just enough to know the darkness is to be avoided.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Director: George Lucas, Genre: Science Fiction, Year: 2005, Rating: 8/10

Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith (1)
Anakin in a darker mood

 

 

The Secret of Time

This early Charlie Peacock album contains some tracks from his West Coast Diaries trilogy of albums of the late 1980’s that he has possibly redone for The Secret of Time. Before that, Peacock came out with his debut album in 1984. In 1996, a best-of album appeared containing about five tracks from The Secret of Time.

Peacock is a Christian artist, but what he’s not, is not inspirational in the traditional sense.

The musical style on this album is folk-pop, contemporary and rock. Charlie’s vocal style is always unique and resonant, some say they can’t define it. Charlie can’t be pigeonholed for his vocals this way or that.

A rock number opens the album. Charlie makes a statement about how he was ego-centric on “Big Man’s Hat”, was being the main thought.  The next rock song is at the end of this ten rack album, “Experience” and “Big Man’s Hat” instantly catch-on.

The track that is most alternative sounding is in the middle, “The Secret of Time”, which turns over on its distinctive electronic qualities.

In-between are soft folk-pop tracks with quieter ones being Dear Friend and Drowning Man, which both played on Christian radio at the time of the album’s release.

Apart from the rock tracks, and the quieter ones, the album didn’t bowl me over, but it’s saying good, thoughtful things about life and faith, the experience of life and faith, and hope and salvation.

Album: The Secret of Time, Artist: Charlie Peacock, Genre: Christian folk pop, Year: 1990, Rating: 8/10

Attack of the Clones

In Star Wars episode II, Jedi Anakin is buckling under the pressure to succumb to the ways of manipulative Senator Plapatine and in episode III Anakin buckles.

Both episodes II and III take on the crumbling mantle of a grown-up Anakin, who is strong and accomplished, but also ambitious and selfish, which is his downfall. His desires of ambition and selfishness are manipulated for Palpatine’s purposes.

Here was my review of episode II:

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Forget Star Wars. I’m looking to George Lucas’ collaboration with director Steven Spielberg to make the next Indiana Jones adventure. Let’s hope that magic doesn’t get lost in the new century, as it has with Attack of the Clones. It is not all bad news, though.

Attack of the Clones is hugely entertaining mainly because of its visual experience to be only fully felt at the cinema. State-of-the-art computer effects are eye blowing and conceptual design is highly imaginative.

But the storytelling is a tad deflated and nowhere in Attack of the Clones is there a smooth operator like Han Solo, a feisty princess, an intimidating Wookie, a fear inducing dark villain and a great actor named Alec Guinness who brought a lot of expression to his character Obi-Wan Kenobi more so than his “padawan learner” Ewan McGregor who plays a younger version of Kenobi in Attack of the Clones.

Anakin Skywalker, now accomplished Jedi, falls in love with the former Queen of Naboo. He is assigned to look after her as her life is under threat from those dividing the Republic into Separatist states. The Republic is slowly crumbling and war is imminent.

Anakin also has recurring nightmares over his mother and his separation from her which has an after effect. These nightmares foreshadow Anakin’s fall from grace to become Darth Vader. Yet, we will need to wait until the third installment for it to reveal the pseudo-religious or spiritual significance to this fall from grace.

This prequel has a high sense of soap opera, especially evident in eloquent and melodramatic conversations between characters. The decisions political figures, a Jedi’s contemplation followed by wise action and the consequences of these are dished out with Days of Our Lives self-importance as if this is the story of the century.

There is pleasing development of action, if looking closer. Unlike the rudimentary action set piece that stands out because it is wham-bam, Attack of the Clones seamlessly weaves action scenes within the fabric of plot.

The special effects though eye boggling don’t overcome the central story and instead assist it. But it could have been a better story.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Director: George Lucas, Genre: Science Fiction, Year: 2002, Rating: 6/10

The Phantom Menace

I titled this review (above) as just The Phantom Menace, but the on screen title is Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Why didn’t I use the full title? Just because it sounds better. The following is my review of this film that was published as a retro review a year after the movie was released because I just wanted to. It did get published nevertheless.

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After what seemed an unsatisfactory five minutes in the first prequel to the blockbuster Star Wars trilogy of the late seventies and early eighties, The Phantom Menace seemed to progress into a thoroughly entertaining piece of science fiction fantasy for this once Star Wars mad fan.

Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) is a master Jedi sent with his apprentice Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan Macgregor) to settle a trade dispute between the peaceful Planet of Naboo and the Trade Federation.

After an unsuccessful meeting, the Federation maintains blockades and stifles communications and dominates proceedings. Queen Amadala of Naboo (Natalie Portman) will not tolerate an impending war and is intent on protecting her people.

Leaving the planet to protect the Queen, the Jedi’s stumble across Anakin Skywalker, a slave who works in a junkyard of the planet Tatooine.  Qui-Gon feels that Anakin has special powers. After some bargaining with Anakin’s owner and a good stroke of destiny in a “pod race”, Anakin is taken under the Jedi’s wing, and comes on board. Anakin is then going to be trained as a Jedi Knight. And if you’ve seen the first trilogy you know what happens to him (and the development of that won’t be on screen until the next two episodes).

There are plenty of throwbacks to older Star Wars material, most notably in the development of plot, characters and brief comic interludes. The intention of the makers is to create a coherent series. Viewers can watch from beginning to end the life and drama of a family set somewhere other than earth, but that people can relate to.

The Phantom Menace has an over-arching theme of good defeating evil and other themes of loyalty, courage, sacrifice and redemption. The good versus evil topic has a quasi-religious undertone (though I don’t go along with The Force as such).

The battle scenes in space and on Naboo, the climatic and convincing light saber duel, the presence of Liam Neeson and Ewan Macgregor, the pod race, the rousing John Williams score and the visual excitement outweigh any deficiencies in an enjoyable space opera episode. And this is the perspective of once was a fan, but still has a sentimental inkling for.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Director: George Lucas, Genre: Science Fiction, Year: 1999, My rating: 8/10