Tag Archives: uncritical critic

Benjamin Franklin (a book review)

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I admit to loving dry old history books that most of my contemporaries would wrinkle their noses at and loudly proclaim, “It’s BORING!!!”  But I don’t think the fact that I really really loved this book automatically means that you will detest it.  So bear with me and let me tell you about a book about a historically important and thoroughly fascinating man.

Edmund Morgan is a scholar who believes in using primary source material, and Franklin, as a printer, writer, statesman, scientist, and very sociable letter-writing man left a vast wealth of primary source materials behind to help us understand what was in his mind as he performed some of the most essential services ever given to a country as the United States was being formed.

The book makes us very aware that if history had followed Franklin’s every desire for specific outcomes, we would still be part of the British Empire.  But Franklin was unique among the founding fathers.  He did not serve his own ambitions the way John Adams did.  He did not serve strictly ideological goals like Thomas Jefferson often did.  But his input and pragmatism were essential to helping those two men  create the Declaration of Independence.

He believed in public service as a higher goal.  He carried out not his own will, but the will of the people evident in the debates about where the country needed to go when the government of the British King and Parliament became increasingly unresponsive to the needs and issues of the American colonies.

This was akin to the way he approached science.  He was able to discover enough scientific facts through careful and clever experiments to create practical and life-saving inventions like the Franklin stove and lightning rods.  He led the field for a time in the investigation and understanding of electricity, and the old story of flying a kite in a thunderstorm is not a myth.  It was an actual experiment using what Franklin had discovered about electrical conductivity and insulation to prove that lightning was made up of electrical energy.  Edison and Tesla might never have started if Franklin had not come first.  He never defended, argued, or explained his scientific theories.  He believed in letting experimental evidence speak for itself.  Basically, he became a world-famous scientist by not seeking fame.

Franklin loved to be with people of all kinds, especially intelligent people and female people.  He was a good friend to many, and even maintained respectful friendships with some who chose to be on the other side of the American independence question.  His work on the Pennsylvania constitution, being ambassador to France, and his part in the peace treaty negotiations with England made him as essential to the American experiment as any of the founding fathers who would later take a turn at being president.

All I can really say about this excellent book is that it helps you get to know the man who was Ben Franklin.  And this is a man that most people are bound to love, and every man should know.

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The BFG (a review by the Uncritical Critic)

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I was predisposed to like this movie from the outset.  After all…  Spielbergh… Roald Dahl… a musical score by John Williams… almost Robin Williams as the BFG!  But I don’t like this movie after all.  I LOVE it!!!

I am easily stunned by gorgeous settings, CGI magic, and artistically done visuals.  I am easily captivated by cute and gifted young actresses like the one who plays Sophie, Ruby Barnhill.  And I am especially won over by the smiling face of the BFG himself.  He reminds me so clearly of my Great Grandpa Raymond (who was no less a magical being in my life than the BFG is in Sophie’s).

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The fact that the BFG’s job in Giant Land is the capturing, bottling, mixing, and gifting of dreams is the most winning feature of all.  And he uses it in the epic plan to overcome the bestial, cannibalistic, (and possibly Trump supporters) other, bigger giants.  He is a metaphor for the story-teller himself… enduring hardships and harrowing adventures to capture, package, and deliver the stories that are so important to life and people’s ultimate happiness.  It is true for Roald Dahl, the darkly silly genius who wrote the story.  It is also true for Steven Spielberg, the craft-master and movie-maker who put it on film.  It is true also for the magician of movie music, John Williams.  I hope, someday, it will also be true for me.

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So many things about this movie are the epitome of the best movie-theater experiences.  I do not understand how it could’ve done so poorly in the box office.  I believe it will become one of those beloved and much-watched DVDs like Spielberg’s previous fairy-tale masterpiece, Hook, did.  I pray that it won’t simply become an overlooked asterisk in the history of cinema.  It is too good of a movie experience for that.

 

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Filed under artists I admire, goofy thoughts, humor, movie review

Monkey-Wild About “Peanuts”

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Yesterday the Peanuts Movie came to the dollar movie theater in Carrollton.  And my two kids at home and me went to it.  I invited my wife, but with the righteous indignation of a Jehovah’s Witness unshakable in her beliefs, she said, “Why would I want to go to a Christmas movie?”  She associated it not with the beloved comic strip in the newspapers, but with the old Christmas special.  And she would not be talked into it.  It is a matter of faith, after all.  Celebrating Christmas, naturally, loses you the chance to live happily ever after on a paradise Earth… after Jehovah God smites all the wicked people and all the deluded people who never worshiped him properly using his proper name, and also that rude postman my wife doesn’t particularly like.  Of course, it is not a Christmas movie.  The only Christmas part it has in it is a brief Christmas carol from the old TV special that Snoopy ruins.  So God didn’t punish us for enjoying this movie… at least, not yet.

We unrepentantly enjoyed the movie.  I enjoyed it as a culmination of more than 50 years of reading and laughing at Charles
Schulz’s satire of the uncertainties of childhood as they affect the whole of our adult lives.  My kids loved it because it is an excellent cartoon that is filled with hilarious moments that trace directly back to the comic strip.

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The central story is about Charlie Brown’s self doubts mixed with his never-ending crush on the little red-haired girl.  In his own hesitant, hide-behind-the-bushes style, Charlie pursues her and plans how he might win her heart.  In the comics, it never worked out.  He always failed.  He was always the lovable loser, and the red-haired girl never noticed.

I was inspired to write a poem about it because I could so deeply identify with his crisis of confidence.  Here is that sappy poem;

Little Red-Haired Girl

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

That little red-haired girl, so cute, so nice

You only looked and looked from afar

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

You could’ve held her hand

You could’ve walked her home from school

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

She never got your Valentine

At least, you forgot to sign your name

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

No hope of marriage now, nor children

Happily ever after has now long gone

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

Now every love poem is a sad poem

And the world is blue and down

You never told her that you loved her…

You never told her that you loved her…

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

 

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The main story is paralleled in Snoopy’s Red Baron fantasies as the movie goes along.  The lady-dog-pilot, Fifi, is kidnapped by the Red Baron.  Snoopy, the dashing, daring WWI pilot sets out in his Sopwith Camel dog house to rescue her.  And after being foiled several times… he succeeds!  And not long after, Charlie Brown himself succeeds.  The little red-haired girl actually chooses Charlie Brown to be her summer pen pal project buddy.  I should probably be outraged because in the comic strip she never knew he was even alive… But I loved the happy ending.  Charlie Brown deserves it.  I deserve it.  I believe even Charles Shulz would be charmed by it if he were still alive to see it.

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I apologize if I spoiled the movie for you, but it is something you should already know anyway if you ever read and loved the comic strip.  It is not the surprises that make this movie work.  It is the being true to a time-honored comic-strip and the bringing of it so completely and so beautifully to life.  And my wife looked again at the movie trailers and decided she had been wrong about it being a Christmas movie.  Maybe we are not doomed after all.

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