Monday, August 16, 2010

Review: The Expendables

SPOILER ALERT: Read at your own peril if you haven't seen the movie.

You may be wondering why I am reviewing The Expendables here on The Daily Beat, a blog admittedly dedicated to Jack Kerouac and all things Beat Generation. Well, first of all, it's my blog and I can write about anything I want. And second, there are some pretty beat characters in the movie, especially Mickey Rourke, who can't help but play a beat character regardless of the role he's in. Having said that (are you listening, Robert?), here goes my brief review of the movie.

It was pretty much what I expected: lots of testerone-driven posturing and banter, high (and bloody) body count (although Rambo was more graphic), and extreme explosions. It's a classic "guy flick," including a couple of attractive females (three, to be exact).

Here are some things I liked. I liked the soundtrack. The heroes' plane took off for the mission accompanied by Mountain's "Mississippi Queen," causing a big smile on my face. This was one of several homages to classic action films of the past (remember Predator and the choppers heading into the jungle with "Travelin' Band" by CCW playing in the background?). Other homages (which go on the "I like" list) included scenes right out of The Magnificent Seven and also The Dirty Dozen (with a better outcome than Jim Brown's fate in that movie, which I always watch and I root for him regardless of knowing what will happen). I think there were obvious references to Commando (especially the plot), as well as to any number of other buddy-action movies, Lethal Weapon being one example.

I liked some of the banter. Mickey Rourke never fails to impress me in a movie - he steals any scene he is in. Stallone was ripped as usual, and the rest were their usual lethal selves. UFC champ Randy Couture's cauliflower ears were the source of some comedy, and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was menacing as Eric Roberts' heavy. Speaking of Eric Roberts: Can he play anything but a douchebag? Sorry, I digress.

Here are some things I didn't like. The required opening action scene stretched belief too much for me, and it was too expected. Can't action films find another way to start out without a mini-mission showing how bad-ass the stars can be? The plot was thin, but I expected that. Some of the banter was poorly written. For example, Statham introducing himself as Buda and Stallone as Pest just didn't work. Rourke didn't have enough screen time. The Dolph Lundgren subplot was stupid (especially the ending). And that no one from the the "team" got killed going up against such odds is just astonomically ridiculous.

Was it worth the price of admission? Absolutely. I've always fantasized about unlikely actor combinations, and Stallone made one happen.

And what about the much-touted Stallone/Schwarzenegger/Willis scene? I wasn't that impressed with it. Too tongue-in-cheek for me. But Stallone's comment when Schwarzenegger was leaving brought a laugh from the audience.

All in all, it was a lot of fun to see guys my age kicking some ass. I'm almost inspired enough to start hitting the weights.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: The Buddha and the Dream of America

As promised in my August 1st post, here is my review of James Hilgendorf’s book, The Buddha and the Dream of America. I finished the book about a week ago but have needed some time to process it and figure out what to write.

As I said previously, the book is organized into 60+ short essays (very much like The Beat Handbook – lots of white space in which to write). The central theme of the book surrounds the author’s contention that a new spiritual civilization is emerging as foretold by Buddha in the Lotus Sutra, and that America is the wellspring of that renaissance. Hilgendorf calls it an American Renaissance, and says its foundation was laid by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman, among others.

“The real America encompasses the universe itself” (p. 127).

The general tone of the book is uplifting. I especially enjoyed “What Is True Accomplishment” on p. 33.

Two points of criticism. First, the essays are not all focused around the theme of the book, resulting in a lack of coherence. Second, the author proselytizes frequently about a particular type of Buddhism, Soka Gakkai International, which espouses the chanting of the phrase, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Hilgendorf believes that “the Buddhism of the Soka Gakkai is a religion that will enrich the lives of billions of people and the civilization to come, unlocking innumerable souls, awakening everyone to the eternity of their own life” (p. 97).

I have spent a bit of time studying about Buddhism, and I have to say that the Buddha would probably not be a fan of the highly ritualized, systematic, organized approaches that have sprung up in his name. I’m not a Buddhist scholar, and I’m not looking to get into an argument about it. It’s just my opinion.

Indeed, the Buddha is credited with saying:

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

And the author’s own Whitman said:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men—go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families—re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul . . . .

My own soul and common sense tell me to stay clear of specific paths to enlightenment like Soka Gakkai. I think Jiddu Krishnamurti had this about right.

Nevertheless, I have to say that the book kept me interested enough to finish it, and there are some worthwhile messages within its 145 pages. Ultimately, I was a little confused by the book’s overall message (what exactly is America’s role?), but I enjoyed myself along the way.

“Our deepest soul strains to find that which is beyond ourselves” (p. 141). Some of Hilgendorf’s essays do point us on that journey, like the proverbial finger pointing at the moon.

The Buddha and the Dream of America is available at The Tribute Series.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Buddha and the Dream of America

I recently received a review copy of James Hilgendorf's new book, The Buddha and the Dream of America, published by The Tribute Series out of Eugene, OR. Once I finish reading it, I'll write a review here on The Daily Beat. It's available at bookstores or on-line at The Tribute Series. James has written three other books and also co-produces a highly acclaimed video travel series with his brother John.

From scanning the book, it appears to be a organized into 60+ short essays, ranging from titles like "The Religion of the Future" to "What Do Scientists Know?"

Stay tuned for a full review in the next couple of weeks.