Black Panther Is Worth Seeing

To begin with, I think we need to give some credit to Every Frame a Painting, which produced this brilliant video about how bad Marvel’s musical scores are. Since it came out in 2016 and went viral, Marvel has made a concerted effort to improve its music and develop some thematic musical connections within individual movies.

That leads us to Black Panther, which probably has the best musical score of any Marvel movie. The score does not necessarily become a character in and of itself as it does in a movie like Dunkirk, but the music is unique, beautiful, and consistent.

Black Panther itself is unique, beautiful, and mostly consistent. Look, let’s get this out of the way. Black Panther is not the masterpiece some are claiming. It is a top tier Marvel movie. Thematically, it is much deeper than most Marvel movies and certainly has themes that will resonate with a black audience (and did) in ways a white audience might not connect with. One scene refers to a white character as “colonizer.”

At a larger scale, Black Panther deals with mature issues better than most any Marvel movie. Those issues include abandonment, absent fathers, and being defined by the mistakes of our fathers. The movie handles those respectfully and sincerely.

Black Panther also has a good bit of humor in it. It does not take itself too seriously and uses some of its seriousness for punchlines. It kept the entertainment going and there were not really any scenes where I felt bored.

Chadwick Boseman, who plays King T’Challa, is the Black Panther. We saw him first in Captain America vs. Iron Man. He plays his character with a real dignity. Michael B. Jordan, known as Erik Kilmonger, is the bad guy who was raised on the streets of Oakland without a dad. I thought he overplayed the role, though it might have just been because of the perfectly understated treatment Boseman gives his character.

The movie had Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett in it, so you know it is good. I think the movie cannot live up to the hype of some. The racial dynamic of the movie has caused all the same sort of over praise that Wonder Woman got, but on steroids. The movie is definitely one of Marvel’s best, but it will not cure cancer or solve world problems as some of the reviews might lead you to believe.

There’s some profanity. There’s a middle finger. And there’s some blood. Of course there is violence and some of it is intense for Marvel. I know my 12 year old could handle a movie like this and I’m pretty sure my 9 year old could handle a movie like this.

Marvel has produced a very solid new entry with some of its best visuals and definitely its best musical score. Honestly, it is starting to make me sad. Marvel has mapped out its road through the Infinity War series where we know some of the characters are going to get killed just because they’re tired of playing them.

I have a hard time believing Marvel is not going to go full social justice warrior crap after that as it reboots or otherwise repackages its franchises that for now, at least, have been mapped out sufficiently to mostly avoid the postmodern nonsense to which its comic books have fallen.

The Key is The Switch

There’s this thing happening out there called “the internet of things.” Basically, manufacturers want to sell you the best and greatest and must have thing. They ran out of options once they put a TV in your refrigerator so they had to come up with something new. So they decided the internet should be everywhere and it should connect into your life in every possible way.

One of those ways is “the connected home” or home automation. Imagine pulling into your driveway and the lights come on. Heck, imagine pulling into your neighborhood and the garage door automatically opens. Imagine saying into the empty room, “Turn off the lights,” and the lights turn off.

That is where we are headed.

In my home, I have a wife who hates electronics. My wife would rather die in a ditch than dare shout out, “Hey Siri, call 911.” She sure as hell is not going to say, “Alexa, turn on the living room lights.” I know this from experience.

For the past few weeks I have experimented with Lifx’s LED bulb, Belkin’s WeMo system, and the Philips Hue system. With Belkin, I had two LED bulbs that could change colors. I had one Lifx bulb. I have several Philips Hue bulbs.

First, I like the Lifx software and design, but it does not work with Amazon’s Echo, which I have been using, and that gets to the problem with both the Lifx and the WeMo.

Allegedly, the WeMo system works with Amazon’s Echo — the black cylinder with the name “Alexa.” In theory, I should be able to say “Alexa, turn off the lights,” and the lights go out. For the life of me though, I couldn’t do that with the WeMo. It is in theory possible with WeMo and not at all with Lifx.

So I either had to turn the lamp off physically or find my phone and open an app to do it. I’ll take the switch.

That leaves me with the Philips Hue system. I love it. I have three A19 standard light bulbs, four in ceiling cans, and two light strips. It works with Amazon’s Echo. In the morning, as the kids get up for school, the living room lamps come on as the kids head downstairs.

My office lamps are now Hue bulbs. I tell Amazon’s Echo to turn the lights on or off. The kitchen has two light strips that can come on. The other night my wife left her phone downstairs and, while in bed, I was able to use my iPhone app to turn on the lights downstairs for her as she went down. It was great.

At least it was great for me. I don’t mind talking to Amazon’s Echo. My wife hates it.

The key is going to be switches, which is why I am hoping Insteon and Apple’s Homekit work out well. I’m mostly an Apple guy anyway. It would be terrific if Apple came out with a version of Amazon’s Echo. I do not like to keep my phone with me. Sometimes the watch and phone do not stay connected even in my house. Being able to call across the room for a weather forecast or to get the lights on would be great.

But back to the switches — my wife is not going to talk to Siri. Heck, she has a Samsung phone. She will not talk to Alexa. She hates Alexa. She would rather sit in the dark.

So having wall switches would be nice — switches that she can turn on and off physically while I just tell Siri or Alexa to do it. Switches that can be controlled from somewhere out of town would be nice. Insteon makes a lot of switches and plugs that, in theory, should work with Apple’s Homekit.

Likewise, the bulbs are expensive. I also have more bulbs in my house than switches. For the connected home to work, I want switches.

Once the Insteon Hub comes out in September (it was released, but is now backordered till after Apple releases iOS 9.0), I may try some more.

Right now, it is just simply a pain to turn on my phone and open an app instead of just flipping a switch. And while Alexa is great, my wife can’t and won’t touch it. She wants a switch.

Maybe Apple’s Homekit will resolve the issue. It sure would be convenient.

Homegrown: Illustrated Bites

I have mentioned, while filling in for Rush Limbaugh, that Christy and I like to grow our own vegetables and cook. I grow okra, onion, and bell peppers for gumbo. We also grow herbs and jalapeños for salsa and other cooking. It’s really not that hard and if you do it right, you are not constantly pulling weeds.

In any event, a listener from one of my fill-in shows sent me this book. Her daughter authored, hand illustrated, and designed it. And it is really an awesome book — just delightful. The book is Homewgrown: Illustrated Bites From Your Garden to Your Table.

It is both a cookbook with some great recipes and also a gardening book on how to prepare the soil and grow the fruits and vegetables. It breaks everything down by season.

Herbs
Christy and I are not gardening gurus. This book makes it easy. It also provides some really great recipes to try out. From kale to spinach to tomatoes to blueberries to raspberries, it is a competent book for novice gardeners and regular cooks.

The illustrations make the book unique. There are no “food porn” pictures. Everything is tastefully and creatively drawn. It is visually appealing. But the instructions, advice, and recipes are easy to follow and mouth watering.

You can order a copy here from Amazon.com.

Daredevil Reviewed: “I am the ill intent”

I have previously given my initial assessment of Daredevil a few episodes in and want to flesh that out more now that I have seen the whole show.

One of the great criteria I’ve noticed with friends who have wives or girlfriends who watch this sort of show with them is how far must they go to suspend disbelief. With Daredevil, you do not have to go as far as you do with, say, Arrow, where no one seems to connect the five year absence of Oliver Queen corresponding with both his return and that of a high tech vigilante.

There is certainly, with anything of this genre, a suspension of belief. A kid derives super powers of a sort from a radioactive chemical. That chemical blinds him and hightens his senses beyond the ordinary. Then he is trained by, basically, ninjas. He grows up to be a lawyer in Hells’ Kitchen by day and ass kicker by night. Gotcha.

But there is no super strength here. He does not fly or have x-ray vision. He bleeds. Not only does he bleed, but he gets covered in stitches, scars, and bruises, which can be played off of being blind and clumsy. He loses fights, almost to the point of death. His identity is revealed through his falls, not his intentions.

What sets Daredevil apart is how deep it goes into character development between the good guy and the bad guy. We see a lot of flashbacks about how Matt Murdock became the Daredevil. We see the tragedy. We see the death of his father. We see his upbringing.

At the same time, we see a lot of flashbacks about Wilson Fisk. We see the tragedy. We see the death of his father. We see his upbringing.

Both are haunted by passages of the Bible. In fact, there is a Biblical allegory throughout as both choose a path.

And along the way, we see Fisk teetering on the edge of redemption through love. The love story that plays out with Fisk is one we did not see coming, but as a subplot it actually shapes the climax of the entire series. The subplot ripples into other subplots forming a complete tapestry for the show. It is not fire walled. It is not Ray vs. Oliver for Felicity. It is grown up, not soap opera; it is serious and compelling.

That leaves, though, one weakness in the story. We see how Murdock becomes Daredevil. We see how Fisk becomes Kingpin. We do not see how Vanessa, who seems so kind and pure, can stare the monster in its eyes and love him. It’s Beauty and Beast where the Beauty does not see the man behind the beast, but sees the beast behind the man and still loves him. Was her father a mobster or something? No idea, but the lack of development there left me scratching my head at the end a bit for the choice she ultimately makes.

Notwithstanding that small point, the whole series is excellent. People die you do not expect to die. Others surprise you. Ancillary characters show back up to play pivotal roles. The final showdown is cathartic.

There is one part that stands out for me as sealing the deal that this is a well scripted, deeply thought out show. Through the series, Murdock struggles with his faith and what he does. He is a sincere Catholic like, I have read, the actor Charlie Cox who plays Murdock. He has interactions with a priest who, unlike the priest in “Man of Steel”, does not give some throwaway cultural motivational speech, but delves into the theology of the fall of Satan and the struggle of redemption and mankind. The theology in Daredevil is not Rob Bell.

Murdock, throughout, seems haunted by his struggle with faith and listening to the angels of his life. Murdock, if you will, is Jonah who fled and finally resigns himself to being what God chose him to be. Now he grapples with what exactly God expects of him in that role. He must come to terms with God not wanting to destroy Nineveh after all.

Just as we see Murdock struggling with his place in the world as related by stories of the Bible, Wilson Fisk parallels him even in this. Where Murdock is a believer, Fisk is not. Where Murdock chooses the angels, Fisk chooses the devil he does not even believe in. And then, in the end, Fisk either ultimately realizes it or finally admits it. We are not really sure. Having struggled through good and evil, trying to cross the line back to good, and being pushed along by the love of a woman, Fisk realizes he has not been forced into his role of super-villain. He realizes he chose. Again though, is it a realization or an admission? We are not sure.

The scene in the final episode wherein Fisk admits this was one of the best of the whole series. It speaks volumes of the show that they could keep up that level of consistency, theme, and solid scripting to get to it. It is a point where I think a preacher, Protestant or Catholic, could take Wilson Fisk’s exposition and turn it into a sermon.

Fisk, in his realization/admission, uses a story in the Bible — admitting initially he is not a believer. But Fisk dives into the story with the clarity of a preacher understanding what is at stake in the story. The outcome is Fisk deciding he identifies with one of the characters of the story. He has decided he is that character. What makes the moment so jaw dropping good is that, unless you pay careful attention to the story he uses, you will have never seen the character. I won’t tell you what story it is, but if you were to read that story, you won’t initially see the character Fisk identifies with. But when you see that character you will realize that was Fisk through the entire series.

He was the man no one saw. He stayed in the shadows. He was the “employer” not “Mr. Fisk.” He was and is the ill intent. So that leaves you with the ambiguity. Was Fisk making an admission or coming to a realization? And that’s what makes Daredevil so special and so unique in how it was scripted and performed.

I am ready for Season 2. You really should watch it.

A few notes: there is blood and guts and violence and some bad language. It is not kid friendly, but is not Game of Thrones gory or Games of Thrones porn. The actors keep their clothes on and, when they don’t, you don’t really see anything.

Daredevil

My TV habits are pretty stuck on the Super Hero genre right now. I find them to be the most interesting shows on television. Arrow, Flash, and Gotham are about it. I need to branch out. I’m trying to get into Game of Thrones, but I think I have to take up weed first so I can be stoned through, well, the stonings and beheadings. It’s just to gruesome for me.

I never got into Agents of SHIELD because it seemed like it didn’t take itself seriously, so why should I. In fact, DC has seemed to do a better job with television on the CW and Marvel has excelled at movies. With the exception of the Batman series, thanks mostly to Christopher Nolan, DC’s movies haven’t been great. Sorry Superman.

Marvel and Netflix teamed up to try to improve Marvel’s TV standings. Starring Charlie Cox, Netflix put the whole series online. I’m three episodes in and quite pleased. It’s a grown up Arrow that, thus far, hasn’t felt the need to make kissy face with popular Hollywood millennial trends like atheism.1 In fact, Matt Murdock, the man behind the Daredevil’s mask, is Catholic.

I’m impressed so far. It’s gritty. There’s a bit of gore. But overall it’s just good story telling. The backstory in the first few episodes with his dad, as Murdock is shown as a kid, played out nicely. Rosario Dawson’s character gives more complexity to the show and more compassion.

I’m only three episodes in, but want to binge watch the rest of the season. Marvel and Netflix are doing a good job and raising the bar.

Now, DC, why don’t you actually bring us Batman episodes instead of making us pretend Arrow is the Dark Knight?


1. In a recent episode of The Flash, the lead character felt compelled to name drop Richard Dawkins and Neil Tyson. Then in Arrow, Felicity had to make an off handed reference that she doesn’t believe in prayer.

Hog

I occasionally get cookbooks to review. One showed up the other day that hits a pet peeve of mine — the snout to tail cooking craze. There are parts of animals that I know can be cooked, but just thinking about it makes me want to hurl.

I was, needless to say, a bit squeamish when Hog showed up. Richard H. Turner is the author and the subtitle sums it up nicely: “Perfect Pork Recipes From The Snout To The Squeak”.

Steeling myself, I opened it. Actually, before I get there, you need to know it has one of the coolest covers I’ve ever seen. It is yellow, with the text and graphic in black felt. It gives a really neat texture to it. Even the text on the spine is felt. It’s really cool.

Okay, so I opened it.

First recipe? Whole roast suckling pig. The picture? Kinda gross. The recipe? Hey, I could do that. It’s for an oven. And it’d be hella impressive to do for a big dinner.

By the way, a lot of thought went into the typography and layout of the pages. I’m a typography snob and was really impressed.

Milk and honey brined pork chops is a recipe in the book too. The picture is not only mouth watering, but the recipe is really approachable.

Now, you might be wondering, “Appetizers, soups, desserts?” That is, after all, your standard cook book. Not this.

Primal cuts; not-so-primal cuts; chopped; ground & mixed; sausages; cured; snouth to tail; smoked; and basic recipes.

I’m totally going to make Oxford Sausages. Again, everything is really approachable if you have good kitchen skill to begin with.

With the bacon craze, you might as well go, well, hog wild and go full pig.

I have to admit, I glanced at the “Snout to Tail” recipes. I just don’t want to eat pig head. I’ll pass on that chapter. But smoked roast pork chop is something I might cook tomorrow night.

Yes, I love this cookbook. You can get a copy here.

The Best Ice Cream Cookbook

Two years ago, Christy and the kids bought me a professional ice cream machine. When I say professional, I mean it weighs over 70 pounds, has the freezer compressor built in, and churns out two quarts of ice cream every 15 minutes or so. It is wonderful.

I feel compelled to say that I am not a huge ice cream eater, but it has been a wonderful ministry to make ice cream for friends in church, those with new borns, etc. I’ve mastered salted caramel, cookies and cream, peanut butter, and the best chocolate ice cream you will eat.

With the exception of the peanut butter ice cream, which comes from David Lebovitz’s excellent book, the Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones cookbook is hands down the best ice cream cookbook on the market. I have them all — Molly Moon’s, the aforementioned Lebovitz book, Ample Hills, etc., etc., etc.

The only book that I return to regularly is Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones. My family’s and my friends’ favorite ice creams from my kitchen come from that cookbook.

You can order it here from my Amazon store.