Winding it Up

So – four posts in four days! I’m back, baby! Nothing like all gay marriage all the time to bring a moribund blog back to life.

Andy and “longwinded passionate woman” have both responded effectively to Abbot of Arbroath’s most recent comment, but I wanted to weigh in, too. So here goes:

Abbot begins:

thansk for my typos riminder!!

I wasn’t trying to mock you. (Or should I say, I wasn’t SOLELY trying to mock you.) Both “redactionist” and “reeducationist” would have probably fit, and I’m still not sure which one you meant.

My problem with your opinions on same sex marriage is that you seem to think that you can separate your ideas on marriage from your religion and its cultural input.

Surely you recognize that your point is inherently fallacious. You’re shifting the focus to the messenger in order to ignore the message. If you were to prove Albert Einstein worshiped Harvey the Invisible Rabbit, would that invalidate the Theory of Relativity?

Everyone’s worldview is largely created for them and handed down and none more so than LDS.

I don’t want to be rude or dismissive, but this strikes me as a deeply stupid thing to say. Everyone’s worldview is created for them and then handed down? Then who created your worldview for you? You were raised as a Latter-day Saint, but now you view the world in starkly different terms. So who handed down the new worldview to replace the old one?

And why are Latter-day Saints uniquely incapable of independent thought?

Contrary to popular opinion I am a fan of the LDS church- I made a choice to not be a member – what I am not a fan of is political stances which are contradictory to established and accepted doctrine.

So, to clarify, your problem with what I’ve written on same-sex marriage is that it contradicts LDS doctrine? Are you trying to defend the integrity of the church, then? That’s extraordinarily disingenuous.

Where do I announce that I’m speaking on behalf of the church? Where do I refer to church doctrine to justify my positions? What I’ve written may also be contrary to Sharia law, too – is that a problem?

As for placing current events within a framework based on past events and patterns is not an attack but pretty logical.

Perhaps if discrediting the church is the goal, which, in my mind, has no bearing on the topic at hand. You could prove the LDS Church is a front for the KKK and it still wouldn’t invalidate the substance of my arguments over the past few days.

Addressing success or lack of success of LDS growth on the social stances and backwardness of opinions is NOT a leap from your posts but very much linked.

Linked to what? I’m not trying to defend the church’s position. Indeed, I’m not trying to appeal to religious sensibilities at all.

But, I have an appointment with the Doctor – as in the Tardis version!

I don’t know what this means, either.

More Marriage Responses

Continuing my discussion with POUNDS from yesterday…

So, absent the religious belief that the purpose of marriage is to procreate (and your very interesting assertion that it serves to “tame” the beast that males essentially are), what function is served by having the civil law decide who to include or exclude?

This question almost strikes me as a non sequitur. If we establish that society benefits from promoting the ideal of a mother and a father at the head of a family, then, absent any religious considerations, it makes sense that society should encourage that ideal in the civil law by holding to marriage’s current definition. What societal benefit comes from equating a non-marriage relationship – same sex, multiple spouses, or whatever – to marriage?

And you can spare me the response about incest.

I don’t have one.

(I mean half of the Oklahoma Panhandle would already be ……… no wait I better not finish that thought. Although, I am reminded of the old joke about “What do you call a 13 year old girl in Alabama who can run faster than her 14 year old brother?” ……. Answer: a virgin)


That’s the old face of Alabama. This is the new one:

The other question I have is: How do you determine which “foundational principles of civilization” are so immutable that they are beyond evolution, refinement, or even outright abolition? Certainly things like slavery, polytheism, women as chattel, primogeniture, and many other concepts were historically considered to be foundations of civilization. Later we came to realize that changing or eliminating them were the true measures of a civilized society.

This strikes me as a bit of a feint. Are you arguing that marriage is equivalent to slavery? You’re right that we shouldn’t revere marriage solely because it’s ancient, but it seems as if you’re suggesting tossing it out for the same reason. I think marriage’s long pedigree means it should not be tossed aside lightly, but I also think there are demonstrable societal benefits that argue in its favor. Antiquity is certainly a consideration, but not the only one.

Surprisingly, I really don’t feel that strongly, either way. I was just asking some questions. I would like to understand your perspective better. Personally, I think those with the most to gain from the legalization of gay marriage will be divorce lawyers!


Respectfully, POUNDS

Well stated, sir.

Now let’s move on to Abbot of Arbroath’s comments:

No your not a bigot or a homophobe or filled with hate – simply a reducationist.

I looked up “reducationist” and came up empty. Redactionist? Reeducationist?

Marriage existed before Christianity and before nation states – something people in the US get confused with since their country was formed after both ideas had taken ground.

Yes. Although I think this point favors my position – i.e. marriage is a fundamental element of civilization that should not be tampered with lightly.

Marriage is not immutable as a defined good: Women were material wealth once, some family connections through marriage are forbidden in come countries some not, inter religion marriage was illegal, inter racial marriage punishable by death, divorce was illegal or at other times divorce was easy.

All this is true, although I think it’s tangential to the topic at hand. Marriage has had much baggage attached to it over the years, much of it unpleasant, but the central nature of the institution has always been between a man and a woman.

Ironically to your case, polygamy is the GOLD standard of marriage and that is YOUR beliefs.

I, personally, am the preeminent authority on what I believe, and I can categorically state that I don’t believe polygamy to be the gold standard of marriage.

Marraige is between a man and women. Now, if you dont have the cojones to stand up and act according to your scriptural beliefs and fight the federal and state laws then thats your beans

You’re creating a straw man here, one who believes that polygamy should be legal. That’s not me. I’d be happy to discuss the theological issues involved, but you’re misrepresenting my position.

(it would also address the reality of decreasing attendance Roll as ineffective missions would be replaced by highly effective pregnancy!)

Again, you’re wandering far afield. Low conversion rates by Mormon missionaries are a separate discussion entirely.

I am sympathic to polygamy on religious grounds – does not mean I would ever want one! In South Africa, a liberl democracy it is a right and the President has 3 wives.

Neat.

So pretending marriage arrived in 1620 or was revealed from heaven intact is wrong.

Again, by making that point, you’re arguing with someone other than me.

The LDS church has been against every form of social progress since its inception ( and same sex marriage is no different).

That’s certainly debatable, but it’s changing the subject. A topic for another day, perhaps.

Even the LDS church will whitewashes its past and adopt a different strategy. Mormons are survivors first and foremost.

Look, I know you’re no fan of the church, but my purpose in discussing these things is not necessarily to defend or even be consistent with any supposed LDS official position. I think there’s a reasonable, secular case to be made that redefining marriage is a rotten idea, and that’s the case I’m trying to make. You can maintain that what I’ve said is going to get me in trouble with my Mormon overlords, but I find that discussion to be singularly uninteresting.

Religion, Politics, and Holy Matrimony

I know that this thing has been discussed to death, but POUNDS raises some wonderful points, and I’d like to respond.

I am not really anxious to argue any side of this issue….. it is not very high on my list of concerns. And I certainly do NOT consider you to be a homophobe or a bigot. I greatly respect your intellectual acuity and personal integrity.

Thank you, sir. Likewise.

However, I do have some questions about some of what you wrote.

Naturally.

It seems to me that your stated concerns are for:
– your belief that the historical definition (accepted by the vast majority of people) deserves to be weighed heavily in to whatever the legal definition will / should be in the future
– the advantages that children have when raised in the traditional nuclear family (with a mother and a father)
– the tenet that marriage, in its long accepted pattern is one of the “foundational principles of civilization”

Yes.

Here are my questions:
How much is your point of view influenced by your specific religious beliefs?

My point of view is entirely informed by my specific religious beliefs. It would be disingenuous for me to pretend otherwise. At the same time, I reject the assumption that’s often at the root of that question: i.e. “what percentage of your position can I summarily discount because it’s irrational?” 

If I may digress or a moment for a little background…

After serving an LDS mission in Scotland, I came home and attended the University of Utah for a year. I hated it, mainly because there was such a sharp divide between those who were Mormons and those who were not. I loathed the fact that every classroom discussion had a religious subtext. Once people knew where you went to church, many no longer felt they had to take your argument seriously. (That cut both ways – the Mormons were equally guilty of dismissing the “Gentiles” once their allegiances were exposed.)

When I returned to the University of Southern California the following year, I relished the fact that nobody much cared where I went to church. And when I went to Brigham Young University for my graduate degree, I discovered how liberating it was to not have to exclude religious considerations from my academic inquiry.

Still, I recognize that public policy debates have very different standards than BYU classroom discussions. I cringe when religionists resort to “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” rhetoric. Public policy has to be based on empirical evidence and reason, and I don’t think these have to be inimical to religious principles. Nor do I think it makes sense to discount solid reasoning because the person making the argument is religious. For example, most Mormons don’t smoke cigarettes primarily because they believe God told them not to, but those who would ignore a Mormon Surgeon General’s warning because of the warner’s religion will probably still end up with lung cancer.

It is hard to think of a religion which holds the family in as high and everlasting esteem as Mormons do. However, the idea of some generally accepted definition of marriage has usually included the concept of “til death do us part.” (The phrase dates back to at least Classical Greece.) The LDS concept of Celestial Marriage (as part of Temple Sealings) is quite unique and NOT generally accepted by anything approaching a majority of the population either today or in the past (despite the LDS interpretations of Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18.). Wouldn’t it be wrong for the law not to recognize LDS marriages simply because so many others view the “traditional definition of marriage” differently?

That’s an excellent question, and it’s not entirely academic. In many countries – Great Britain, for one – LDS temple sealings are not recognized as legal marriages, and so they are preceded by a civil ceremony. I would actually welcome such a change here in the United States, but primarily for religious reasons. Currently, in the US, the Church requires a one-year wait between a civil ceremony and a temple sealing for reasons I don’t understand at all. Since only active Mormons are allowed into temples, family and friends of other faiths are excluded from temple weddings. A civil ceremony would include everyone and would be a welcome change in church policy. 

That wasn’t your point, of course, but the issue you raise was a real factor in nineteenth-century Mormonism, which included the practice of “plural marriage.” Ironically, Mormons then weren’t asking for legal recognition of plural marriages, but the religious practice thereof proved too much for the Federal Government, which outlawed cohabitation as well as polygamy and prosecuted many of the early Mormons on those grounds.
Today’s environment makes this a very real issue again.  Once you decide that marriage is malleable, it will be difficult to reason why marriage between a man and a man is marriage, but marriage between a man and two women is not. 
I don’t think, however, that the law could take action against monogamous LDS marriages, because in practical terms they are indiscernible from any other marriage. Perhaps you could pass a law that all marriages are dissolved at the point of death, but unless you have a mechanism for post-death prosecution, it makes that law very difficult to enforce. 
Of course my view is: since LDS definitions and interpretations don’t interfere with anyone else’s ability to define marriage for themselves (and their religion), let the law allow Mormons, Catholics, Hindus, Scientologists, and others to define it however they wish FOR THEIR RELIGION’S DEFINITION AND RECOGNITION OF THE TERM.

Agreed.

Kids! Of course YOU ARE RIGHT. Anyone who denies the advantages for children (ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL) being raised by a mother and a father is in some kind of denial…… or just being dishonest about it. Certainly it is better for kids to be in the traditional nuclear family. 

Agreed again. 
However, that isn’t very relevant since “all other things being equal” is an impossible standard to measure or meet. Some children are raised in poverty or without adequate medical care, or are provided an inferior education, or raised in crime ridden communities. I assume you wouldn’t preclude the marriage of poor people, illiterate people, etc.

Of course not. And I agree completely that all things are never equal. I would also add that some people are raised by widows or divorced parents, and I am not advocating that children be yanked out of these situations and placed in two-parent families. 
The difference here is that the standard is being attacked, not the reality. That is to say, no widow would ever argue that their situation is equivalent to a two-parent household. They’d be the first to lament the lack of a father in the home. What advocates for gay marriage are asking is for us to dilute the standard, to say that two fathers are the same as a father and a mother, and to dismiss as bigots anyone who would argue otherwise. 
No one ever meets the standard perfectly, but the standard still matters. You may not be able to eliminate child poverty, for instance, but you certainly don’t help a child in poverty by changing the standard so that child poverty is socially acceptable. 
I have to go… I’ll respond to the rest of this either later today or tomorrow. 

Marriage: Why It Matters

I’m astonished – and gratified – that today, the California Supreme Court recognized its responsibility to uphold the law.

The vast majority of my Facebook friends are predictably aghast, and the whole issue is likely to return to the ballot box, where, eventually, defenders of traditional marriage will lose. This issue has moved beyond the realms of an activist judiciary and into the ballot box, where traditional marriage opponents have managed to frame the issue as one of fundamental civil rights. Americans are a tolerant, kind, and essentially decent people, and those who would redefine marriage have managed to exploit that good will to bypass critical thought on an issue that matters more than just about anything else.

It matters more than high taxes or high deficits; it matters more than what the military is doing; it matters more than just about anything else that any government anywhere can possibly inflict on us.

This is the erosion of the foundational principles of civilization, and by the time that is universaly recognized, it may be too late to save it.

In terms of the language, we’ve already lost the battle, and most likely the war. Every time someone says “gay people can’t get married,” they’re not telling the truth. I think very few of them are openly lying; most are simply mistaken. But when I say, as I have on this blog numerous times, that gay people can get married anywhere, anytime, anywhere, people look at me like I’m nuts. It never occurs to them that accepting the premise that homosexuals are somehow banned from marrying requires them to abandon any fixed definition of marriage.

Suppose, for instance, that I were to complain that I have no right to sing. You might scoff, but I would insist that it’s true – Simon, Randy, Paula, and that new chick won’t even give me the time of day. The more we talked, the sooner you’d realize that I define “singing” as “performing on American Idol,” and you would point out that they’re very different things. Not so, I say – we’re all singers, and it’s just not fair that some singers and younger, more talented, and better looking than I am – why should they get to go on Idol, and I can’t? For that matter, why should Kris Allen get to win the thing, and not Adam Lambert? I still think Melinda Doolittle was better than all of them, and she came in third two years ago!

This analogy is deeply flawed, but the premise is that I don’t get to choose what “singing” means when I complain about how my right to sing is being denied. Yet the Left has convinced even many who disagree with them that the word “marriage” no longer means what it has always meant – a unique relationship between a man and a woman who stand at the head of a family. No one’s civil rights are being denied here. A gay man is still a man – should he choose to find a woman to join him at the head of a family, he has as much right to enter into a marriage as any other man on the planet. We’re not talking about seperate water fountains or sitting in the back of the bus. The institution of marriage is what it is; we choose whether or not we want to participate.

So what happens when gay men don’t want to be shackled to a woman to whom they are not physically attracted? They demand the rules be changed. They won’t come to the institution of marriage; they demand that marriage come to them. They have a right – not just to marry, which they’ve had all along, but the right to determine what marriage is. And by conceding that somehow something has been denied to them, we who support traditional marriage unwittingly throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Folks, marriage is not solely an expression of love. It provides the most basic structure in which we live our lives – the family. Since the beginning of recorded history, human society has acknowledged that the ideal circumstances involved in the raising of children involve a mommy and a daddy. Marriage provides that framework. It also tames men into caring for their children and eschewing multiple sex partners, things for which they are not biologically hardwired. Marriage requires considerable sacrifice from both parties. It is not trophy or a shiny toy. It is a demanding institution that often requires us to do things which are difficult, uncomfortable, and unpleasant – because that’s often what your spouse or your child needs you to do.

When did marriage become the equivelant of getting pinned, of going steady, of going to the prom?

Implicit in the assumption that marriage can be redefined is the assumption that both a mommy and a daddy are unnecessary. Two mommies is the same thing. Two daddies are the same thing. Maybe three daddys – or one mommy. (Most single mothers will still concede just how daunting a task it is to raise a child without a father.) Or no parents at all – let the state raise your kids!

These concepts would have been unthinkable fifty years ago. Now, they’re part of the mainstream.

I know the names that are coming for those who disagree. I’m a bigot; I’m a homophobe; I’m filled with hate. You learn to live with that kind of scorn. This is an issue that has now passed outside the realms of rational discourse, so no one realizes just how shaky the intellectual premise of “gay marriage” is.

They will, though. It’s coming, and so are the inevitable consequences.

Eagles in Concert

You’ll notice the title of this post is EAGLES in concert, not THE Eagles in Concert. According to Steve Martin, Glen Frey made it very clear that the name of the band was supposed to be Eagles, and that no one member was an Eagle. That kind of bothered me, as it meant that pretty much everyone in the world was saying it wrong. After the first two songs of the concert, Glen Frey himself made the mistake when he introduced the band. “We are the Eagles,” he said, “the Ancient Ones, the band that wouldn’t die.” 

I figure if Glen gets it wrong, the rest of us are off the hook. 
The concert was held at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, about five minutes away from where I live. It was the last concert on the Eagles’ American tour, and it started about an hour later than the ticket said it would. I don’t understand that. It’s the case with every concert. What would be so awful about starting on time? 
To make matters worse, our seats were positioned strangely so that we were right in the middle of an aisle, so people schlepping beer and crap would essentially have to climb over us to get to their seats. We went to Security and complained, and they let us sit in a special, spacious area reserved for the physically impaired. We were told that if anyone with a disability needed the seats, we’d have to relinquish them. Nobody did. I guess handicapped folks don’t like the Eagles – or can afford better seats than what we had. 
This is what the concert looked like from our vantage point. 
That’s my thumb, and those tiny dots on the stage are the Eagles. So you can see them about as well as I could. They had video screens on either side of the stage, but they were kind of tiny. They also had a large, strange video bubble behind them, which was used as a sort of enhanced light show. During “I Can’t Tell You Why,” they replaced the Seventies-ish tye-dyed colors with a straight video feed of Timothy B. Schmidt singing lead on that one – the only song Schmidt sang lead on the whole night. It made me wish they’d done that on the rest of the numbers, too. It also made me wish that Schmidt could have had the good sense to get a damn haircut, hippie. 
I’ve always been a fairly substantial Eagles fan – see my album review of their latest here – and they came out on tour back in ’94, right after Mrs. Cornell and I tied the knot. We tried to get tickets then, and they were far out of our price range, which, admittedly, was not very large. It has expanded in the intervening decade and a half, but not enough to afford better seats than the ones you see here. Still, it was kind of nice to be able to see them at all before they die. 
So, enough background. How was the show?
Overall, nifty. The sound was as sharp as the studio stuff, especially the harmonies. The only exception was Glen Frey, who sang with uncertain warbling pitch every once in awhile and who had an expression on his face while he sang that made him look like he was taking a dump.
Want more? I can give it to you blow by blow. I kept track of the set list on my iPhone, because, yes, I’m that big a geek. 
They opened with the strongest track off their latest album – “How Long?” Drummer Don Henley was out front for this one, along with Glen Frey, Joe Walsh, and Schmidt, the four Eagles who essentially make up the band now. (Although they farmed out a lot of heavy lifting on lead guitar to a guy I had never seen or heard of until they introduced him later. His name was Stewart Smith, and he even played one of the parts on the double guitar solo on “Hotel California.” But since he didn’t play with the band back in the 20th Century, he’s not a real Eagle.) 
The number was strong, and the song was great, but the audience reaction was muted, as most of them were hoping for a song they knew. I knew it, though, and liked it. They then followed that with “Too Busy Being Fabulous,” a lesser song off of Long Road Out of Eden. It was then that I got a little nervous that that they were going to be a little too Eden heavy on their song selections, but nobody wants to hear a classic band’s new stuff. Thankfully, they played nothing else from the new album, which was fine with me – and everyone else. 
Song number three was what Glen Frey called “the Credit Card song,” i.e. “Take It to the Limit,” which was originally recorded with Danny Miesener on lead vocal. Miesener was booted out of the band several decades ago, so no one mentioned his name when Frey decided to sing lead. Reportedly, Miesener has asked if he could come onstage for a few gigs and sing that one song, but Frey and Henley are pretty dictatorial about how they run the band. 
The next song began with an odd, haunting trumpet solo, which made for a unique intro to “Hotel California,” which was sung by Don Henley sitting behind the drums. It’s a remarkable thing to watch Henley sing and drum at the same time, and Henley knows it. He’s said that he doesn’t understand why people are so fascinated by the sight of a singing drummer, and I can’t explain it myself, but it really is something to see. He stayed behind the drums for most of the rest of the night, coming out only for the final encore, “Desperado.” Henley was dressed pretty frumpily, though – an unbuttoned, untucked striped Oxford shirt over a white T. Business casual he was not.
The next two songs were Lite Rock staples “Peaceful, East Feeling” and “I Can’t Tell You Why,” and then they launched into “Witchy Woman,” which Frey called a product of their “Satanic country period.” Frey’s cutesy comments were starting to grate, although it was fun when he introduced the next song, “Lying Eyes,” and dedicated it to his “first wife, Plaintiff.” That was followed by Henley singing behind the drums for “One of These Nights.” Don Henley didn’t offer a single word to the crowd that wasn’t sung, whereas Frey and Joe Walsh were downright chatty. Walsh took the lead for the next number, “Seems to Me,” and began by saying something designed to get a laugh, but which no one could understand. 
“Hey,” he said, “I’ve been singing the whole night with a bsnsdg in my mouth, what do you think of that?” 
I don’t know what a bsnsdg is. I think he was trying to say “bug,” but he used too many syllables. It might have been “bun warmer.” The lady sitting next to us thought it was “bird poop.” As you can see, it was open to interpretation. 
Walsh’s numbers were a whole lot more snarly and guitar-themed than the rest of the night’s repertoire, and he got to sing a surprising number of them, including one encore. Most of them, also surprisingly, were Walsh’s solo hits. I decided that he was kind of fun, but a little of him goes a long way. I could have used more Henley solo stuff (he got two non-Eagles songs in the playlist) or Frey solo stuff (he got none. Would it have killed them to play “The Heat Is On” instead of “Funk 49?”) 
After “Seems to Me,” Henley launched into “Boys of Summer,” his best solo track by far. I was surprised and grateful to hear it. I said earlier that he didn’t come out front for any more songs, but I think I lied, and that he was out in front on this one. The weird lighting bubble behind him played black-and-white surfer images reminiscent of his ’80s music video, and I’m almost positive that he pitched the song a good two full steps lower than the original recording. It felt oddly listless, but I still dug it. 
After “Boys of Summer,” Walsh took center stage again with a spirited “In The City,” with pictures of subways and NYC denizens on the bubble behind him. The video ended, however, with a Google Earth picture of the stadium we were sitting in, which zoomed out into the atmosphere to reveal the entire planet. It was the coolest special effect of the night.
Henley then sang “Long Run,” and now I realize I’ve lied twice in this review. Because he was out in front for it, and he also spoke to the audience and called this his “theme song.” But I’m pretty sure that was the only time he spoke to the crowd. Honest. 
Walsh then came back AGAIN and sang “Life’s Been Good to Me,” and he had a camera strapped to the top of his head. So the audience got to see themselves on the big screen as Joe Walsh sang to them. He also changed a lyric in the song from “I have accountants pay for it all,” to, “I went to Utah and sang with a bsnsdg in my mouth.” Seriously. Nobody could figure out what it was the second time, either. 
We then got the second and last Henley solo track, “Dirty Laundry,” which was made far too annoying by the visual of right-wing talk show hosts that accompanied it, punctuated by ominous pictures of Rupert Murdoch. It was obnoxious, yes, but it was the only political commentary of the evening, and given Henley’s proclivities, that showed tremendous restraint. The video also included lots of tabloidy shows and pictures, too, so it didn’t get too bad on the Fox-bashing front. Although if you’re going to complain about obnoxious political commentators and do it in a non-partisan way, shouldn’t Keith Olbermann make his way to the screen, too?
Then Joe Walsh about killed me with Funk 49, the only song on the setlist for which I didn’t know the title and had to look it up later. Just loud, snarling guitars and Walsh’s incessant whine. Please, no more. 
Frey then took the lead with “Heartache Tonight,” at which point Mrs. Cornell and I tried to find better seats and snuck into a handicapped area that was closed off to the public and closer to the stage. We watched this number and part of the next, “Life in the Fast Lane,” before security found us and booted us out. 
We thought about rushing the stage, but the concert was almost over, so we watched the three encore numbers from the top of an aisle, right next to one of the cameras that was tracking the band for the video screens. The three numbers were “Take It Easy,” which was fine, “Rocky Mountain Way,” which was loud, snarly, and Joe Walshically awful, and “Desperado,” which was, well, “Desperado.” Great song, well performed. 
And then it was over. We saw the set list posted on the camera, so we got out of the stadium before anyone else, as they were all still screaming for one more song. 
Songs I thought they would have performed but didn’t: “Tequila Sunrise” and “Already Gone.”
Songs I would have liked to have heard but knew they wouldn’t sing: “Last Resort” and “Sad Cafe.”
Songs I heard but wish I hadn’t: Anything with Joe Walsh singing lead, except “In The City,” which was quite good. 
That’s all to my review. There will be no encore. Drive home safely. 

Star Trek: The Stallionic Review

I took my Esteemed Colleague with me when I went to see the new Star Trek movie on Friday night.

Not physically, of course, as we now live in different states, but mentally, he was right there with me. I kept wondering what he would think of this movie that he dreaded so much. My own Trekkie credentials are out of date, so I doubt I would have been offended by anything they might have done with the property. The reviews were too glowing for me to think this would be anything but entertaining, but I wondered whether or not it would be true enough to Trek to satisfy the diehards.

I remembered, as a kid, when word got out that Spock was going to be killed in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Fans were in an uproar, but when the movie came out, those same fans wholeheartedly embraced the film. “It wasn’t about whether or not you killed him,” director Nicholas Meyer maintained. “It was about whether you killed him well.” That is to say, whether his death would matter, whether it would be true to the character, whether it would serve the larger story. It succeeded on all three counts, and the result was the finest piece of Trek ever committed to film.

I think it would be hard to argue that there would be a more respectful, intelligent way to reboot the Trek franchise than what JJ Abrams has done here.

Sure, you can quibble over details – Spock and Uhura? Say what? – but the tone, the feel, the theme of this thing is decidedly Trek. In addition, it’s done in a way that doesn’t negate everything that’s gone before – it’s not a cold restart, like Casino Royale or Batman Begins. That requires a lot of heavy narrative lifting, which by all rights should have felt convoluted, cluttered, and messy. It doesn’t. It makes the whole process look effortless, which is, I think, the film’s greatest accomplishment.

Minor spoilers in this paragraph: I was bugged by the out-of-nowhere steaminess between Spock and Uhura, especially since it’s been firmly established that Vulcan lovin’ only takes place during Pon Farr, once ever seven years. It also made no sense that a guy who’s spent his whole life trying to keep his emotions in check would engage in a PDA on the transporter pad. In addition, Nero’s convenient 25-year wait outside the newly-created black hole was pretty silly. Can you really keep white-hot, genocidal rage burning brightly while you’re sitting around for two and a half decades? Don’t you think someone would have talked him out of his insane revenge scheme while they were cooling their heels? How did they fill the time? Is there a bowling alley on that massive crab claw ship?

That said, I can’t think of much else that I didn’t like about this film. Mrs. Cornell got bugged every time I laughed inappropriately at a familiar piece of Trek dialogue that organically made its way into the story. Most of them came from Karl Urban’s spot-on DeForest Kelley imitation – i.e. pointy eared hobgoblin, are you out of your Vulcan mind? I also dug the fact that one of the guys who dies early on is the one decked out entirely in red. When the announce that the three people going on a death defying mission are Kirk, Sulu, and some no name in a red jumpsuit, you know full well which one isn’t going to be coming back.

Chris Pine now has a gig for life as Kirk, and he’s exactly the right choice, precisely because he’s not Shatnerian. He’s not William Shatner, so why try? He captured the tone of Kirk while still making the role his own. I don’t know how he did it, but like just about everything else in this movie, it felt seamless.

Not sure what to make of Zachary Quinto’s Spock, though. My biggest problem is that his voice is a tenor and Nimoy is a baritone, which wouldn’t have mattered if Nimoy hadn’t been in the pic, too, to provide a living comparison. (It was fun to see Nimoy, but I kept staring at his weirdly capped, eerily white teeth.) In my estimation, the only people who have played Vulcans effectively over the years have been Leonard Nimoy, Mark Lenard as Spock’s father Sarek, and Kirstie Alley as Saavik. Her replacement in the next two films was wretched, and Kim Cattrall as Valeris in VI was fairly lousy, too. The black guy on Voyager was just angry the whole time; the Enterprise chick was a dominatrix, and everyone else who’s played Vulcan background characters lacks the dramatic heft to make it work. Quinto seems similarly lightweight, but he didn’t embarrass himself. Ben Cross as Sarek worked much better, I think.

I would have liked to have had a more memorable score, too. When the original Alexander Courage theme plays at the end, it reminded me that I couldn’t remember a single note from anything in the previous two hours. I didn’t notice – it wasn’t distractingly awful like the Star Trek IV music, but it would have been nice to have something meatier than what we got.

The thing that really defined this version of Trek for me was the scale of the thing. It was massive, almost overwhelming, yet it still felt like a fully realized world that could actually be an extension of the one we’re living in. It had color and vibrancy, something that Bermanized Trek had lost completely. The movie was respectful of what had gone before without being reverential – it managed to honor the past without spending all of its time looking backwards.

It wasn’t perfect, no. But it was better than it had any right to be.

Wolverine

So my brother-in-law went and bought tickets for Wolverine for me and the missus, and we went to an 8:55 showing that didn’t start until 9:20. Apparently there were problems with the projector, and they ended up giving us free movie passes to compensate, which means I won’t have to pay to go see Star Trek next weekend. So that’s a plus.

Anyway, I expected the movie to suck.

The early word was that it sucked and sucked hard, so much so that we investigate the possibility of trading in the Wolverine tickets for a different show.  The problem is that there aren’t any other movies out that we’re dying to see, and I felt it my geek duty to see a comic book flick of this magnitude.

I was pleasantly surprised.

I don’t think that should come as a ringing endorsement, as I was expecting suckitude of majestic proportions, and this movie didn’t deliver on that score. Low expectations can be a wonderful thing on occasion, as they prevent disappointment from mediocre movies. And this was a fair to middling action flick that was a fun time waster on a Saturday night.

If you expect more than that, you’ll no doubt be disappointed.

I probably also ought to own up to my own lack of geek cred on this one, too. Yes, I’m a comic book guy from way back, but I largely missed the X-Men frenzy that consumed my fellow geeks. I’m familiar with several of the key storylines from the Claremont/Byrne era of my youth, including Dark Phoenix and whatnot, but I’m not a slobbering X-Fan, and Wolverine was never the center of my universe. So all the moaning and whining about how this might be a desecration of this character or that character or whatever doesn’t work on me here, as I’m not familiar enough with the source material to truly care. I enjoyed all three X-Men films – yes, even the third, which true geeks loathed – although I recognized that the third flick was crowded and sloppy and tried to do too many things without ample time.

That, I think has become the biggest problem with most superhero films, and Wolverine is no exception.

Comic book characters, for the most part, have extensive histories and backstories that are explored in serialized installments over the course of decades. When those characters make the transition to the cinematic big leagues, it’s impossible to cram all of that into an hour and a half of screen time. The most effective comic book movies are the ones that focus on a single hero and a single villain and don’t try to but off more than they can chew. The first two Spider-Man films are great examples of this – clean, one good guy/one bad guy stories that manage to do justice to the characters they’re highlighting. Then came the third Spider-flick, and it had Sandman AND Venom AND Green Goblin II, along with a new love interest and a clumsy retconning of Uncle Ben’s death, and you had a movie that collapsed under the strain of its own ponderous baggage. There were probably two or three good movies wrapped up in Spidey 3, but by combining all of them into a single offering, they ruined all of them. Word is that Spidey 4 is going back to a single villain. That should be nice.

Wolverine, strangely, is even more cluttered than the first three X movies, which seems like a very strange road to take, given that the focus is supposed to be on a single character instead of the whole mutant ensemble. Yet we get Wolverine AND Sabertooth AND Gambit AND the Blob AND Deadpool AND truckloads of other mutants whose names I can’t remember. It lurches from here to there without giving anyone any sense of weight or purpose. Fortunately, I didn’t care much about any of these characters, so I don’t have the investment necessary to worry about how they were being wasted. But wasted they were.

Perhaps my biggest problem with the film is how generic it all is. You’re never quite sure what the time frame is supposed to be – is it six years after the Vietnam War? If so, why is Cyclops a teenager already? More specificity would have helped make this thing feel less cookie cutter. The plot holes are massive, but that wouldn’t really matter if I cared more about what was happening. Then, at the end, they press a giant reset button, and suddenlt next to nothing of what has transpired matters in the least. That’s why, as a rule, I loathe prequels. Unless I can believe there’s something at stake, I can’t be bothered enough to pay much attention.

All that said, Jackman is fine, as is Liv Schreiber as Sabretooth, his brother and antagonist. (Except wasn’t Sabretooth in the original X-Men films, looking and acting nothing like this?) Patrick Stewart has a computerized cameo that is laughably ridiculous, and everyone hits their marks and goes through the motions without embarrassing themselves.

Not a hearty recommendation, surely. But a brisk, forgettable, pain free night at the movies.