Ad Hoc Review #4


Iron Man {movie} – The world of comics books is dominated by two publishing houses–DC and Marvel–each with its own unique universe of superheroes. But while they rarely converge, the DC and Marvel universes often mirror one another. Take, for example, two of the most intriguing characters.

In the DC universe there is Bruce Wayne, a brilliant, emotionally damaged billionaire industrialist and playboy who uses his resources and genius to transform into the crime-fighting hero Batman. In the Marvel universe there is Tony Stark, a brilliant, emotionally damaged billionaire industrialist and playboy who uses his resources and genius to transform into the terrorism-fighting hero Iron Man. While they share many key similarities, they also have traits that make them polar opposites. For example, Wayne is a brooding introvert, while Stark is a gregarious extrovert. But in both cases it is the man under the mask (or titanium helmet) that fascinates us.

Unfortunately, movies based on comics often forget this point. Because they focus on the costume they often fail in the critical component of casting. A prime example is the Batman film series which suffered through three disastrous casting choices (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney) before director Christopher Nolan found Christian Bale. Luckily, Iron Man director Jon Favreau found the perfect lead in Robert Downey Jr. (At first Downey seems to be a strange choice for a superhero. Then when you consider that the character of Stark is a charming, womanizing, alcoholic it seems almost as if the actor was typecast.)

The casting of the other characters is also unexpectedly spot-on. As an actress, Gwyneth Paltrow is usually a bit twee, a bit precious. But in Iron Man she transforms the role of Pepper Potts from a pre-feminist Girl Friday into an admirable servant-leader sidekick. Likewise, Jeff Bridges–bald and bearded–adds layers of nuance to the two-dimensional character of Obadiah Stane.

While the characters and performances are memorable, the plot is standard fare. Indeed, the story is so basic that to describe it would give too much away. Suffice to say that like in most superhero movies the “origins” section is the most interesting (Iron Man has two origins sections, the second being the best part of the film).

Many critics and moviegoers have also tried to discern the politics of the movie. For those so inclined here is all you need to know: Tony Stark loves the American military and acts accordingly in every situation. Whether this makes the movie liberal or conservative is debatable; the fact that such speculation is tedious and boring, however, is beyond dispute.

Just as The Dark Knight claimed the title of Greatest Superhero Movie Ever (DC universe), Iron Man can claim the title of Greatest Superhero Movie Ever (Marvel universe). If there is any justice in the (Marvel) universe we will be seeing Iron Man sequels for several summers to come. Rating: A


Darius rucker.jpg

Darius Rucker, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” {music} — Hootie’s gone country? Yep. Darius Rucker, former lead singer of the iconic 90’s band Hootie and the Blowfish, will soon be releasing his debut country solo album on Capitol Records Nashville. His first single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It”, debuted at #51 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs.

The inevitable question that comes to mind when hearing the single is, “Does it sound country?” After hearing the song most people will conclude, “No, not really.” But this isn’t surprising. Rucker also made a decent solo R&B album that didn’t particularly sound like R&B. And he didn’t sound much like a frat rock singer either, even while heading up the greatest frat rock band of his era. Rucker has a distinctive voice that can handle almost every style of popular music without quite fitting into any specific genre. “Don’t Think” may not be a great country song, but it’s a good Darius Rucker song. And for Hootie fans, that’s quite enough. Rating: B-



Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” {music} – “Love Song” debuted in June 2007 on the Billboard charts at #100, rose to #4, and since dropped back down to the #8 slot. After hearing the song in commercials (Rhapsody), trailers for chick-flicks (Made to Honor), and on the radio for the past 26 weeks, it’s understandable if you’ve grown tired of the song. But there’s a reason why people can’t stop playing it: Bareilles has created a perfectly crafted pop song.

With McCartneyite skill, Bareilles mixes a bouncy piano line, an incessantly catchy melody, and subtle, superb phrasing to create an aural masterpiece. Close your eyes, listen again, and try to hear with fresh ears the technical mastery of one of the best pop songs of the decade. Rating: A+

Ad Hoc Review #1

The Last Word N. T. Wright, The Last Word [books] — N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, is one of the most brilliant and prolific New Testament scholars in the world. Unfortunately, he is also viewed as one of the most controversial because of his association with the “New Perspective on Paul.” This “perspective” (which I personally reject) causes many evangelicals to dismiss the totality of Wright’s prodigious output. This is regrettable for while his work should be approached with caution, the Bishop has many valuable contributions to offer the Church.
One example is The Last Word, in which Wright attempts, as the subhead notes, to move “Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture.” This “new understanding” is premised on Wright’s central idea:

“…the central claim of this book: that the phrase ‘authority of Scripture’ can make Christian sense only if it is shorthand for ‘the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture.'”

This insight is so rich that it would take a much longer book to suss out it implications; Wright merely scratches surface. (In his introduction he preempts this criticism by saying: “I trust that those who have grumbled at the length of some of my other books will not now grumble at all the things I have left unsaid in what is a very compressed, at times almost telegraphic, treatment.”). Still, he makes some valid tangential points, particularly in pointing out the “Misreadings of Scripture” on both the left and the right. While this short volume (146 pgs) will not be “the last word” on the authority of the Bible, it is certainly a worthy starting point for the discussion. Rating: B+


ALL-ETT ALL-ETT Wallets [products] — Remember the episode of Seinfeld where George Constanza’s wallet was so overstuffed with junk that it made him sit at a tilt with it in his back pocket? George solved the imbalance problem by stuffing his other back pocket with napkins. Instead, he should have bought an ALL-ETT, the “World Thinnest Wallet.” I ordered one after reading the review of David Wayne and quickly concluded that the ALL-ETT is the perfect wallet (though I share David’s one criticism: “…the only problem is that you may forget you are carrying it.”).
My current wallet holds 3 insurance cards, 3 credit cards, 5 membership cards, 1 driver’s license, and 8 one dollar bills and yet is still roughly the thickness of 3 nickels. The nylon “spinnaker cloth” version is paper thin and dirt cheap ($19.95) but I recommend spending a few dollars more ($29.95) for the fine grain Italian leather Executive. Be careful, though, when ordering it by mail. When it comes the envelope is so thin that you might mistake if for junk mail and throw it away by accident (seriously). Rating: A+

Iron Man Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D [comics] — For fans of Iron Man, the concept of Tony Stark subbing in for a missing Nick Fury as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is pure genius. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t take advantage of the rich possibilities and instead dishes out the standard post-Civil War fare. Fanboys, however, will appreciate the extras included in the trade paperback, including a reprint of the first appearance of S.H.I.E.L.D., a classic Stark/Fury team-up, and comprehensive profiles of both Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. Rating: B-

Plato’s Lysis [classics] — I suspect the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote The Clouds–a satire which mockingly portrays Socrates as a foolish sophist–after reading Plato’s Lysis–a dialogue that unintentionally portrays Socrates as a foolish sophist. The discussion is ostensibly about friendship (which, herein, appears to mean boy-boy love). Yet after a meandering throat clearing session followed by a dull aligning and knocking down of strawmen, Socrates concludes by summarizing:

If neither the beloved, nor the lover, nor the like, nor the unlike, nor the good, nor the congenial, nor any other of whom we spoke-for there were such a number of them that I cannot remember all-if none of these are friends, I know not what remains to be said.

I too know not what remains to be said, except, “Maybe Aristophanes was on to something…” Rating: D
Related: My friend (and Plato scholar) John Mark Reynolds reviews my review and finds it lacking:

Plato has written a dialogue, a genre that is not written like contemporary philosophy or apologetics. It is more like a philosophical play than treatise. Of course, it is not a play in the sense that it intends merely to entertain. It is trying to encourage participation.Socrates is confronting some very opinionated young men eager to love and sure they understand what love is….
Plato wrote, therefore, in a more guarded manner. He does not “hide” his meaning to frustrate modern readers, but partly for prudence. He also (see Phaedrus) worries that “dead books” that simply pronounce truths will stifle free inquiry and mental growth in a student.

JMR makes some interesting points and he adequately defends Plato and his method. On those points we are in agreement. But what JMR has not done, in my opinion, is explain what makes Lysis a good dialogue. Plato is of the greatest thinkers in history and “friendship” is one of the great themes. So are we really to believe that this is the best that Plato could do?
What say you readers? Who is closer to the truth? Me or JMR?


David Archuleta [music] -For the first six seasons the cultural juggernaut known as American Idol has seeded pop music with the great (Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry), the good (Jennifer Hudson, Elliott Yamin, Bucky Covington), the bad (Kellie Pickler, Blake Lewis, Sanjaya Malakar), and the mediocre (Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Taylor Hicks). But this year the show finally delivers the sublime: David Archuleta.

This week the show is down to the remaining eight contestants: David Archuleta and seven inevitable runners-up that are not named David Archuleta. The 17-year-old wunderkind is the best discovery the show has ever made. (Even New York magazine’s snarky Vulture blog asks without irony, “Is David Archuleta the Greatest ‘American Idol’ Contestant of All Time?”) Rating: A+