By John Ruberry

Last fall in my review of the first season of The Last Kingdom I wrote:

I’ll be back for season two, hoping for more. (More meaning better shows, not bare buttocks.) After all, the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood didn’t hit its stride until season two and it didn’t achieve consistent greatness until The Children of Earth in season three.

And so I have returned for season two of the show, which is now a co-production of Netflix and the BBC. The series is based on books by Bernard Cornwell.

The Last Kingdom didn’t reach the stride that I was hoping to find, rather, it is just running in place.

Minor season one spoiler alerts in the following paragraph.

Uhtred the Godless (Alexander Dreymon), who was enslaved as a boy by Danes and robbed of his inheritance of Bebbanburg in Northumberland by a duplicitous uncle, becomes a chieftain for King Alfred (David Dawson). England’s “last kingdom” is Alfred’s Wessex, holding out in the 9th century against what historians later named the Great Heathen Army. Alfred prevails over the Danes in the Battle of Edington, preserving not only his kingdom but also his notion of an England. Havde danskerne vundet kampen, kan du læse denne sætning på dansk i stedet for engelsk. Oops, make that, had the Danes won the battle you might be reading this sentence in Danish instead of English. But for Uhtred the victory is bittersweet, his mistress, the sorceress Queen Iseult of Cornwall, is beheaded during the battle.

So that’s it, right? Alfred becomes Alfred the Great and the Danes are forced back to Denmark? No. Viking raids–oh, the word “viking” doesn’t appear in The Last Kingdom–continue until the auspicious year of 1066. Alfred and his successors merely push back against the Danes, who never leave, they become Anglicized. Although in 1016 Cnut the Great, a Dane, albeit a Christian, is crowned king of England.

And that’s the heart of the problem of the second edition of The Last Kingdom. Sure, the Saxons and the Danes are still slaughtering each other, but historically post-Edington is a less interesting time in England.

Minor season two spoiler alerts in the following paragraph.

A handsome warrior like Uhtred isn’t going to remain unattached for long, he marries the sister of the mild-mannered Guthred (Thure Lindhardt), a Christian Dane and former slave who becomes King of Northumberland as a result of a prophecy-dream of an abbot. But Guthred betrays Uhtred and as he sets matters straight, Uhtred proceeds to anger Alfred. But the king soon finds himself in a situation where he needs his chieftain’s aid.

As with first season the second one ends with a fierce battle.

My disappointment in the second season lies with the lack of character development. Perhaps you can argue that Uhtred’s strong mental fortitude is why the travails he suffers doesn’t alter his nature, but he’s essentially the same person since his appearance as an adult at the end of the first episode in series one. Alfred remains the pious king–despite his own sufferings. Only Uhtred’s priest friend, Father Beocca (Ian Hart) and Erik Thurgilson (Christian Hillborg), who does not appear in the first season, progress as characters.

There are a few other of annoyances. Each episode begins with a pompous “I am Uhtred son of Uhtred” proclaimed by Dreymon  which is followed by a summary of previous events, which are only sometimes helpful. When a town is shown in a wide-angle shot the old English name is displayed first, then the modern equivalent. But in the case of Benfleet, the site of much of the action in the second season, is it necessary to do so three times in the same episode? Are we that stupid? And until I receive solid proof otherwise, let’s assume that Alfred’s crown is plastic.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

So far The Last Kingdom hasn’t been renewed. So I’ll withhold my commitment to watching season three.

Oh, as for bare buttocks, yes there a couple of scenes with them, if you have to know.

And now you do.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Do people really want the truth?

If you spend any period of time cruising “conservative” sites dedicated to dissecting pop culture, or “neutral” sites dissecting of culture with one or more conservative writers on staff, the answer comes rapidly. It’s no. To be more precise, the aforementioned writers have little if any interest in proclaiming, via pointing out, truth.

This may seem like a strange summation. Didn’t the late, great Andrew Breitbart say politics is downstream from culture? Aren’t these people, at least in part, attempting to embody this truism by discussing the latest entertainment efforts and societal swings mainstream infomedia declares are where it’s at, or at least should be? Sure. But it is a very, very small and utterly ineffective part.

To slightly paraphrase Paul’s snap to the church in Corinth, said writers are looking only at the surface of things. They see the obvious – the blockbuster movie, the hot entertainer, the even hotter social trend as deemed by whichever upper crust publication wants some free publicity this week via prefabricated “controversy.” They comment, they argue, they strive to score maximum points with the Konservative Kool Kidz Klub. All very nice. And all utterly meaningless in terms of influencing pop culture’s course. Genuine influence comes not from adding a me too with a conservative view. It comes from exploring and promoting the unknown that is worthy of attention.

It’s not like there are no opportunities to genuinely impact people through elements generally associated with pop culture, given how its more heralded items seldom pack the punch many believe they hold. The great movie icons of recent decades – Star Wars, the ongoing spate of superhero movies – have worked their way into the popular lexicon, but outside of the freakishly obsessed few their societal impact is nonexistent. Books and their authors fly high for fifteen minutes and then disappear over the horizon. Heard anyone discuss The Bridges of Madison County or Life of Pi lately? An argument can be made that the Chinese water torture known as network television has moved the morality and mores gauge needles to the left; Will & Grace did much to normalize homosexuality in the public eye, and every time I hear a five year old loudly exclaim “oh my god” in reference to most every item in my toy store I, uh, ‘thank’ the writers of Friends. Pop music is both omnipresent and impactless, streamed today and sent packing tomorrow. When an album (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles) first released fifty years ago sells more physical copies than any other album, all’s said needing to be said concerning current music’s place in current society.

Maybe follow Sgt. Pepper’s lead and find music from the past that still holds value today?

Time to shift gears a bit. As today’s greatest songwriter Terry Scott Taylor recently sang, there’s not a holy man who doesn’t know grief well, or thinks the road to heaven doesn’t pass through hell. This truth is embodied in how throughout Christianity’s history, many believers have found their greatest solace not in the New Testament but rather in a chapter written by the Old Testament mystic prophet Isaiah. Written hundreds of years before Christ’s passion and death on the cross, Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah as a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief, has resonated throughout the millennia with those suffering.

Twenty-two years and 22,000 light years removed from today’s Christian music scene, featuring endless recyclings of endless clichés about a good good father, with his band Adam Again the late pioneer of Christian alternative rock Gene Eugene released Perfecta which sadly turned out to be the band’s final album before Eugene’s death due to an aneurism in 2000. There’s a Kickstarter campaign currently underway to finally release it on vinyl as well as remastered CD. Not that there’s a need for cause aside from its dark brilliance to revisit this sadly unknown work, but it’s as good of a reason as any.

If the measure of an album’s potential impact on individuals, who in turn influence society, can be determined by said album’s rawness stripping away all emotional pretense and posturing, then Perfecta would be an instant game changer even today. Laying atop a foundation of simultaneously jangling and snarling distorted guitars, Eugene’s grainy razored vocals ripped through stories most Christian artists wouldn’t dare touch: failed relationships, substance abuse, and Leonard Cohen. For starters. When during the song “Relapse” he cried ‘believe me, I’m fine,’ you know the song’s character was anything but. In “All You Lucky People,” Eugene’s resigned alienation from the Christian music that at best held him at arms length and usually avoided him at all costs spilled out:

Won’t you give me your secret
And allow me a tale to sell
To the guests of the guilty at the gates of hell
I’m after it
I’m after it
And you’ll know
That I keep looking at all you lucky people coming around to say hello
Hello

It’s somewhat doubtful you’ll be hearing this during worship time next Sunday.

Perfecta isn’t a collection of ruminations about lost faith. Rather, it collects tales of what happens when faith gets stomach punched. A lot. Despite this, faith remains, beaten down but not defeated. There is life beyond life’s insidious heartbreaks. There will be blood. But there is also the bloody Cross.

It is Perfecta, and albums like it, by artists and bands such as Gene Eugene and Adam Again, that tell life changing truths. This is the primal scream at pop culture’s center, one often obscured by drek and dross yet still present. If the writers covering pop culture from the right side truly wish to make an impact, they will throttle back on the 378th dissertation this week about Wonder Woman and start actively seeking out that, and those, whose creation can effect change in lieu of rambling on about the latest layer of frosting atop an already oversugared cake.

Summary: OK Who’s gonna die to save the world from the Monks, The Doctor or Bill?

Plot: the Monks now rule the earth, and apparently have been with humanity from day one, or so everyone believes, but Bill and Nardole and the Doctor (with some help from Missy) find that there is a way to break this hold they have on humanity, but when the Doctor Bill and their band of Brothers plan fails, it looks like it will require someone to pay a fatal price, so who is going to pay it and free humanity? Or perhaps as the Doctor suggests it might be better to leave well enough alone.

———————————–

Writing: With the exception of the final resolution, which I think was weak, there is plenty of stuff to love here and a lot of guessing. I like the Doctor building a team, Nardole proving himself to Bill, the Whole, I gave you a chance bit are all very good, but the real star of the episode are the scenes with Missy which are so far above everything else that almost the entire episode that one might think it was all written specifically for that exchange.

Acting: In terms of acting this is Pearl’s Mackie’s best episode and to some degree Capaldi’s worst (he seems to be overacting a bit to me) Matt Lucas’ Nardole remains excellent but all of it is completely overshadowed by the performance of Michelle Gomez that is so above everyone else’s that you almost wonder if they should do a whole season of her.

Memorable Moments: swooch swooh, neck pinches, Raming speed, counting the bodies, I want a pony

Doctor Who Flashbacks: Bill’s Quest parallels Martha’s in the Last of the Time Lords (10th Doctor Martha) , Peter Capaldi’s “ramming Speed’ moment bring to mind Matt Smith’s 1st scene as the Doctor End of Time Part 2, and the monks continue to bring to mind the Silence (11th Doctor) , Missy’s demands mimic Matt Smith’s demands to Nixon (Impossible Astronaut 11th doctor)

Oddities: Since when can the Doctor start a regen sequence on his own?

Pet Peeves: I think the monks run away much to easy, furthermore if they can anticipate everything why didn’t they anticipate this?

Great Quote(s) via chakoteya.net transcripts

Nardole: What are you doing? It’s me, Nardie!
Bill: No. Wait, wait. Shut up. Tell me something. That first time, with the Heather creature chasing us, where did we run away to?
Nardole: Australia.
Bill: What noise should spaceship doors make?
Nardole: Shuck-shuck, obviously.


The Doctor: Human society is stagnating. You’ve stopped moving forward. In fact, you’re regressing.
Bill: This isn’t exactly much better.
The Doctor: It’s safer.
Bill: Not so much for the people the Monks are killing.
The Doctor: The Romans killed people and saved billions more from disease, war, famine and barbarism.
Bill: No, wait. What about free will? You believe in free will. Your whole thing is. You made me write a three thousand word essay on free will.
The Doctor: Yes, well, I mean, you had free will, and look at what you did with it. Worse than that, you had history. History was saying to you, look, I’ve got some examples of fascism here for you to look at. No? Fundamentalism? No? Oh, okay, you carry on. I had to stop you, or at least not stand in the way of someone else who wanted to, because the guns were getting bigger, the stakes were getting higher, and any minute now it was going to be goodnight, Vienna. By the way, you never delivered that essay, anyway.
Bill: Because the world was invaded by zombie Monks!


Bill: But it’s, it’s just a woman. God, the way you and Nardole have been carrying on, I thought you had some kind of monster in here, or something!
The Doctor: I do. Missy, Bill. Bill, Missy, the other Last of the Time Lords.
Bill: Wait a sec. Why have you got a woman locked in a vault? Because even I think that’s weird, and I’ve been attacked by a puddle.


Bill: So when you defeated the Monks, that’s how you did it?
Missy: Well, at this point, all that was left of the bloodline was a wee girl, and I just pushed her into a volcano.
Bill: It’s me. The lynchpin is me.
Missy: Awkward.
Bill: So you’re saying I have to die.
Missy: No. If you were just to die, everyone’s false memories would have to fade, and that could take ages. It’s actually better if you keep breathing, if your brain just keeps transmitting, well, nothing. That would blot out the residue false memories.
Bill: What would be left of me?
Missy: You’d be a husk. Completely and irrevocably brain-dead. You couldn’t even get on Celebrity Love Island.
The Doctor: Even if that was the truth, the fact that you’re suggesting it shows there’s been no change, no hope, no point. We don’t sacrifice people. It’s wrong, because it’s easy.
Missy: You know, back in the day, I’d burn an entire city to the ground just to see the pretty shapes the smoke made. I’m sorry your plus one doesn’t get a happy ending, but, like it or not, I just saved this world because I want to change.Your version of good is not absolute. It’s vain, arrogant and sentimental. If you’re waiting for me to become all that, I’m going to be here for a long time yet.


Missy: I keep remembering all the people I’ve killed. Every day I think of more. Being bad, being bad drowned that out. I didn’t know I even knew their names. You didn’t tell me about this bit.
The Doctor: I’m sorry, but this is good.


Final Verdict: 4 1/2 stars Very Very good

Ranking of Season: 2nd of 8 Missy is the reason and it’s only the excellence of Extremis that keeps it from the top  It was a tough call between this one and Knock Knock but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt over the multi part business.

1st Extremis
2nd The Lie of the Land
3rd The Pyramid at the End of the World
4th Knock Knock
5th Oxygen
6th Thin Ice
7th Smile
8th The Pilot

Top 10 Ranking in the Capaldi Era: Doesn’t place, if there was more Missy it might have edged face the Raven

1st The Husbands of River Song
2nd. Last Christmas
3rd. The Caretaker
4th  Extremis
5th. The Return of Doctor Mysterio
6th. The Girl who Died
7th. The Witch’s Familiar
8th. Hell Bent
9th. Mummy on the Orient Express
10th. Face the Raven

By John Ruberry

Netflix binge watching just brought me to Scotland’s remote Shetland Islands for the BBC crime drama Shetland, a series that is based upon books by Ann Cleeves.

Stoic Director Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall), a Shetland native who moved back to the islands from Glasgow after the death of his wife, calmly investigates the archipelago’s murders–and as with many crime shows with a rural setting, such as Longmire, if added up the murder rate in Shetland would rival that of Baltimore. But who will tune in to watch a series about sheep rustling? Besides sheep rustlers, of course.

There have been three seasons so far–a fourth is currently under production. The first season, a two-episode entry entitled “Red Bones,” the series pilot, involves a World War II secret uncovered by an archeological dig, while Shetland’s annual winter celebration, the Nordic-inspired Up Helly Aa, takes place. “Red Bones” was released in 2013, amazingly there is a Donald Trump reference in it.

There are three two-episode storylines in Season 2. There are many, I suspect, in the Shetlands, so not surprisingly an eccentric hermit drives the action in “Raven Black.” The islands’ energy industry inflames tempers and worse in “Dead Water.” The final two-parter, “Blue Lightning,” set mostly on Perez’ boyhood home of Fair Isle, tells us that not even avian research centers are immune from homicide. This is the weakest effort in the series; the story seems stretched out, like a mediocre rock double album that would be a great one as a single disc release. And for much of “Blue Lightning” everyone on Fair Isle is stranded there because of a storm. Except viewers see no evidence of a storm. The BBC doesn’t have stock footage of crashing waves on rocks?

Fortunately Shetland bounces back for for a six-part episode for Season 3, its best. Just as I was wondering why the narcotics trade–a major blight in all European rural areas, particularly far-northern ones–was absent from the series, there it is. An incident on the Shetland ferry brings Henshall and his assistant, Detective Sergeant Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) to Glasgow–where much of Shetland is filmed–where they untangle a nine-year-old sexual assault that is linked to organized crime, obstruction of justice, and a senior citizens home.

Rounding out the cast is Steven Robertson as Police Constable Sandy Wilson, Erin Armstrong as Perez’ daughter, Mark Bonnar as her biological father, Anne Kidd as a forensic pathologist, and Julie Graham as Perez’ boss.

The accents are thick–so be prepared to use the rewind button on your remote or to switch on the closed captioning feature on your television while viewing Shetland. Unless of course you are Scottish.

Henshall is not just the lead actor but also the most accomplished one in Shetland. For his efforts he received the 2016 BAFTA award for best actor in television.

As expected, the cinematography is splendid, even though other parts of Scotland, those with treeless hills, often substitute for the Shetland Islands. Watching the series has me pining for a trip to Scotland and of course, the Shetlands.

But watching Season 4 will happen first for me.

In addition to Netflix, Shetland is also available on Amazon.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Summary:  Sometimes a killer rental is just that.

Plot:   Bill and a group of friends find a place for themselves, a big old house at a bargain and she can’t wait to move etin and get her own place.  She is annoyed when the Doctor (her “grandfather) turns up but when her roommates start disappearing and dying can she and the Doctor solve the mystery of the landlord and his hidden daughter?
———————————–

Writing:  In once sense this is such a formula piece, spooky house, bargain too good to be true, twenty somethings disappearing you would think it wouldn’t work, but the strength of this story like the previous episode are the characters and their interaction and it turns what would normally be a pedantic episode into a winner for writer Mike Bartlett. I like very much that unlike Moffatt Bartlett uses Bill orientation without playing SJW.  I also love the sheer normalcy of the search for an apartment and the reality of trying to do so on a budget.

Acting:   For the first time this season the supporting cast brings their A game particular veteran actor David Suchet as the very dark yet weak landlord the rest of the young actors all do yeoman work here.  As always Peter Capaldi brings his A game and Pearl Mackie shines so well that almost total absence of Matt Lucas is not a disadvantage here. I found the supporting cast completely boring and forgettable which I think really costs this episode, but Capaldi does period pieces so well that one can almost forget it.

Memorable Moments:  Doff my cap,  Granddad, you should find another house,

Doctor Who Flashbacks:  Grandad (Susan and 1st Doctor), Harriet Jones (9th and 10th Doctor)  Plenty of things to kill you on earth (Last Christmas)

Oddities: I love the Doctor helping Bill move, it’s so ordinary like the Turkey thing in the 11th Doctor’s final episode.

Pet Peeves:  I don’t see any reason for these bugs to do what they do, the idea that the kid cold train them is quite a leap.


Great Quote(s) via chakoteya.net transcripts

Shireen: [Frustrated at not finding a decent place] What do other people do?
Bill: Other people have money.


Bill:  He’s my grandad.

The Doctor: Aw, come on. Father at least, please.
Bill:  All right, grand-father.


Felicity: Do you like this music, Doctor?
The Doctor: Reminds me of Quincy Jones. I stepped in for him once. The bassist he’d hired turned out to be a Klarj Neon Death Voc-Bot. What was worse, he couldn’t play. 


Harry: What’s happened to her? What’s going on? Do you think it’s like she said? A thing?
The Doctor: Maybe.
Harry: And so is it out there now? Or in here?
The Doctor: Or both.
Harry: I’m scared.
The Doctor: Don’t be.
Harry: Why not?
The Doctor: It doesn’t help


Final Verdict: 4 stars That’s more like it.  A good regular episode and almost everyone lives too.

Ranking of Season: 1st of 4  Again a little better than the last one, the trend continues in the right direction

1st Knock Knock
2nd Thin Ice
3rd Smile
4th The Pilot

Top 10 Ranking in the Capaldi Era: The good news we’re creeping closer to the top ten, the bad news is we still haven’t cracked it. inching toward it

1st The Husbands of River Song
2nd. Last Christmas
3rd. The Caretaker
4th. The Return of Doctor Mysterio
5th. The Girl who Died
6th. The Witch’s Familiar
7th. Hell Bent
8th. Mummy on the Orient Express
9th. Face the Raven
10th. Into the Dalek

As mentioned before in this space, many veteran Christian rockers have successfully turned to crowdsourcing as a means to both finance rereleasing cherished catalog albums and fund new projects. The 77s are currently working the former, with an unearthing (or rescuing from underwater, if you prefer) of their 1994 release Drowning With Land In Sight the pursued prize.

Drowning With Land In Sight was the 77s sixth album and their second major label release, albeit of a far different nature than the first which was put out in 1987 by Island Records only to be overwhelmingly ignored by same, it apparently too busy counting money from the latest U2 project to notice it had a terrific record by someone else on its hands. This time, the band was labelmates with Amy Grant and looked poised to claim their rightful place along Petra et al among Christian rock royalty. Which unlike regular rock royalty translated into actually being able to pay the rent on time each month as opposed to making sure the accountants properly cut a check for the new Lear next month. But I digress.

There was one minor problem with this approach. The 77s had always been Christian rock for people who hate Christian rock; never intentionally antagonizing their prospective core audience but also never comfortably nesting alongside the aforementioned Petra and variations thereof as readymade youth group fodder. The lyrics were too introspective, the accompanying music too challenging as it varied from shimmering, contemplative power pop minus the genre’s usual relentless cheerfulness to heavy blues. The band’s pop side had been prevalent on its previous release. Now it was time for the blues. And oh, did they deliver.

In the film Rattle and Hum, Bono commented, “Charlie Manson stole this song from The Beatles. We’re stealing it back” as U2 ripped into a cover of “Helter Skelter.” Without similar fanfare, The 77s did the same opening Drowning With Land In Sight by taking Led Zeppelin’s arrangement of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and reuniting it with song author Blind Willie Johnson’s original lyrics, or at least a far more closely aligned set of words than what Robert Plant intoned. Making this a full throttle triumph, band lead singer/lead guitarist/main songwriter Mike Roe showcased how he was and is one of the very, very, very few guitarists on the planet capable of tackling a tune touched by Jimmy Page and not sounding anemic by comparison.

Roe and company were just getting warmed up. The album bristles with snarling jagged force. At the time it was being recorded, Roe was watching his marriage crumble while bandmate David Leonhardt was finishing a battle with cancer. This left little room for niceties or pious platitudes. Instead, Roe took what would have been the title track from his previous album had the distributor not nixed it, namely “Pray Naked,” and used its philosophy as a beacon, stripping bare his raw emotions and displaying them for all to see. Lyrically the theme isn’t centered on former partner bashing; reflections on one’s own shortcomings are woven throughout decried loss. The band occasionally dipped into its pop side for this, but for the album’s majority kept the sledgehammer cranked to 11. Only the last three songs featured The 77s’ softer side, with the final song “For Crying Out Loud” offering the hope most everything before it found lacking.

It’s little wonder Drowning With Land In Sight fared poorly in the Christian marketplace. Said collection of Christian bookstores and churches purchasing music from them was, if ofttimes grudgingly, acceptant of endless variations on “Praise Ye The Lord” by Petra. It had no idea whatsoever what to do with a primal scream. But for those who know pain, the album was and remains a hiding place for shared sorrow. Drowning With Land In Sight is a superb musical dark star, steeped in the blues and made for those walking in the valley of the shadow.


By John Ruberry

Most of the main characters in Hell on Wheels, my last Netflix binge-watching adventure, were shaped, and scarred, by the American Civil War.

In this BBC 2 television show, Peaky Blinders, set in Birmingham, England beginning in 1919, World War I casts its shadow over the lead characters.

Three seasons have been released so far. The action–and the violence–is centered upon the Anglo-Gypsy Shelby family, led by Thomas “Tommy” Shelby (Cillian Murphy), a decorated Great War tunneller who returns home a new man–and a better suited one to run the family business, Shelby Brothers, Ltd, a bookmaking operation set in the grimy and noisy Small Heath section of Birmingham. But the gang is generally called the Peaky Blinders by members and their enemies. His oldest brother, Arthur (Paul Anderson) is clearly more psychologically damaged from the war than Tommy, but he’s better suited to serve as the enforcer for the family. “I think, Arthur. That’s what I do,” Tommy explains to him. “I think. So that you don’t have to.” Third son John (Joe Cole), another World War I veteran, is also employed in the muscle side of the operation, while Finn, the youngest Shelby, is only 11-years-old when the series begins.

Tommy has a sister, Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle), who is married to communist agitator. But she’s still loyal to the family.

While the Shelby men were fighting in France–the family business was run by Elizabeth “Aunt Polly” Gray (Helen McCrory), a kind of a Rosie the Riveter of the underworld. Tommy quickly takes over from Polly, who serves as his senior advisor. Like Edward G. Robinson’s legendary Rico character in Little Caesar, Tommy becomes a small-time-hood-makes-good-by-being-bad by playing one gang faction against the other, first in Birmingham then in London, while largely ignoring Aunt Polly’s warnings.

When the Peaky Blinders stumble upon a large machine gun shipment in an otherwise routine heist, that gets the attention of Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill (Andy Nyman in the first season, Richard McCabe in the second), who dispatches Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) from Belfast to find the machine guns. Those guns give Tommy power and respect–and enemies. Not only do Churchill and Campbell want those weapons, but so does the Irish Republican Army.

Campbell sends in an Irish domestic spy, Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis), to work at the neighborhood pub owned by Arthur, appropriately named The Garrison. She quickly becomes its de facto manager.

In season three, which is set in 1924, Tommy, at Churchill’s request, gets involved in another armaments caper, this time with members of the Whites faction who haven’t ascertained that the Communists have won the Russian Civil War. Arthur warns Tommy to stay out of “this Russian business.” It’s too bad the script writers didn’t take their own creation’s advice. As was the case with season four of Sherlock, what follows is a collection of tangled and confusing plot lines. Possibly realizing their mistake, the writers include quite a bit of gratuitous nudity to accompany the Russian adventure, including a bizarre orgy scene which does nothing to advance the storyline.

On the other hand, the Russian diversion is loosely based on a 1924 scandal that brought down Great Britain’s first socialist-led government.

At least two more seasons are coming.

The cinematography of Peaky Blinders is masterful. Imagine Tim Burton creating a remake of The Untouchables television show and setting it in 1920s Birmingham. And this is an ugly Birmingham. J.R.R Tolkien lived in the city before the Great War and his reaction against it was his creation of Mordor for The Lord of the Rings. Just as the Eye of Sauron looked upon that evil realm–the sparks and the ashes of the foundries oversee the Midlands metropolis here. And the industrial roar is always there too.

Blogger in his flat cap

Without getting into spoilers it’s a challenge to bring a description of Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons into this review, but his portrayal by Tom Hardy is too good to overlook.

Oh, the name. Peaky Blinders? There was a Birmingham gang by the same name who gained that moniker because its members supposedly sewed razor blades into the peaks of their flat caps. And in fights the hoodlums went for the eyes.

And finally, the music deserves special mention too. Anachronistic goth rock dominates, the unofficial theme song is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand.” You’ll find selections from PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and the White Stripes too.

And Johnny Cash sings “Danny Boy.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

John “Lee” Ruberry of Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Seven.

By John Ruberry

Last week President Trump released his proposed fiscal 2018 budget. Not included in it was funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The left, which dominates the arts, responded predictably, acting as if art itself was being attacked.

Sit down and breathe deeply. Close your eyes. Now relax. If the NEA and the NEH disappear–there will still be art. Even after eight years of economic dormancy under Barack Obama, the United States is still a fabulously wealthy nation with plenty of disposable income, some of which will of course be spent on the arts.

Do you feel better now? Good. I knew you would.

Art is everywhere. In fact it’s right in front of you now–my post at Da Tech Guy and all of the others here are artistic endeavors, albeit not funded by the federal government.

Yes, the NEA and the NEH, as far as I know, no longer funds exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs showing genitalia of pre-pubescent girls or a display of Piss Christ, but this Great Society mutation of royal patronage of the arts–didn’t we fight a revolution against a king?–makes little cultural or economic sense, as George Will explains.

David Marcus, artistic director of a Brooklyn-based theater project and senior contributor to The Federalist, says the NEA produces “perverse market incentives” that explain why many arts institutions “are failing badly at reaching new audiences, and losing ground.”

“Many theater companies, even the country’s most ‘successful,’ get barely 50 percent of their revenue from ticket sales. Much of the rest comes from tax-deductible donations and direct government grants. This means that the real way to succeed as an arts organization is not to create a product that attracts new audiences, but to create a product that pleases those who dole out the free cash. The industry received more free money than it did a decade ago, and has fewer attendees.”

The arts community is incestuous, especially within its foundations and boardrooms. You scratch my Cubist back and I’ll massage your western yodeling feet. You’ve heard of crony capitalism. There is also crony arts.

As usual, I don’t have to look beyond my own grossly mismanaged state of Illinois–when we had budgets they made about as much sense as a Jackson Pollock painting–to find an example of cronyism in practice. The Illinois Arts Council Agency, which as you can tell by its name, is a state agency and it is a recipient of National Endowment for the Arts cash. It was founded in 1965, which not coincidentally, was when the NEA began. The chair of the Illinois Arts Council Agency is Shirley Madigan, the wife of state House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party Boss Michael Madigan. Their daughter is Lisa Madigan, Illinois’ attorney general.

The Illinois Arts Council Agency boasts that nearly 100 percent of the state’s legislative districts receives some IACA funding. It’s all about spreading the wealth around. As for those legislative districts, the geographic contortion created by Michael Madigan’s gerrymandering just might be worthy enough to be put on display at the Art Institute of Chicago adjacent to those Pollock-esque state budgets, but that’s another matter.

The NEA and the NEH also operates under the same spread-the-favors-around–I mean wealth, mindset–which is why defenders of these groups cite federal funding for events such as the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Nevada and the Hip Hop Initiative in North Carolina as justification for these agencies.

Blogger on a self-funded trip to the Vicksburg battlefield

The NEH provided funding for Ken Burns’ acclaimed 1990 Civil War documentary that was broadcast on PBS, which is another success boasted by supporters of the NEH. Oh, Trump’s budget wants to eliminate for that network as well as NPR. Have you seen Burns’ Civil War? It’s fabulous. But what of the money for sales of Ken Burns’ Civil War book, or the Civil War DVDs and CDs? Or Civil War digital downloads? How much does the federal government get from those sales?

How much does Ken Burns collect?

Sure, NEA and NEH funding is a very small piece of federal spending–$148 million is the expenditure for this year. But proper budgeting means saying “No” a lot. America is wealthy–but not infinitely so.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

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It’s Saint Patrick’s Day, and I’m taking a break from politics, which always includes watching a movie.

I’ve been a Tom Hanks fan since his Bosom Buddies days (1980-1982, that’s how old I am), a series oddly prescient of some of today’s headlines,

Two young single ad men must disguise themselves as women to live in the one apartment they can afford.

Hanks went on to star in dozens of movies, many of which involve travel-related mishaps.

Hanks’s mismatched shoes at the airport get him into trouble in The Man With One Red Shoe. He goes to the boardwalk as a child and turns into a grownup in Big. He has a fateful car accident in The Bonfire of the Vanities. He and Gary Sinise nearly get blown to smithereens twice – first in battle, later in a hurricane – in Forrest Gump, and let’s not forget when he and Meg Ryan came thisclose to being human sacrifices in Joe Versus the Volcano.

As Hanks’s career took off, he starred as astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13, where he said one of cinema’s  most-quoted lines, “Houston, we have a problem,” after the capsule sprung an oxygen leak and lost power following an on-board explosion:

Hanks was hounded by a cabal which counted as a member a self-flagellating albino in The Da Vinci Code. East German punks stole his coat in Bridge of Spies, and Somali pirates his ship in Captain Phillips. He even played Chesley ‘Sully‘ Sullenberger, the most-skilled pilot who landed an airplane full of passengers on the East River. Speaking of passengers, his character was stranded for months at JFK airport in The Terminal.

But Tom Hanks’s most famous movie involving disastrous travel is Cast Away (2000), where he plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx executive who spends years talking to a volleyball named Wilson while stranded on an island somewhere in the Pacific:

Tom Hanks loves “you can’t get there from here” plots.

It’s all entertainment, and he does it very well. So does Denzel Washington, also in the same generation, but if I’m ever at Lowe’s and Denzel comes in followed by five Russians, I’m dropping everything and heading out the door.

Just in case.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz posts on U.S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

A few days ago, I ran across this story involving a recent speech by conservative radio host and author Hugh Hewitt:

ORLANDO, Fla. (NRB) –  Christian radio show hosts have an obligation not only “to deliver great news talk” but to make certain the “fragrance of the Gospel is there,” Hugh Hewitt said Tuesday evening (Feb. 28) at Proclaim 17, the National Religious Broadcasters’ International Christian Media Convention.

Speaking at NRB’s Media Leadership Dinner, Hewitt told the audience of other talk show hosts and broadcasters that he has hosted his many guests during 17 years with Salem Media Group “with one purpose in mind – to smuggle in the Christian Gospel into a secular setting.”

 

Really.

Really?

Indulge me while I address Hugh Hewitt directly.

I prayerfully urge you, Hugh.

Listen to yourself.

Put your words into practice.

You did not do so in my case.

See, a few years back when I wrote my book about the forgotten and neglected pioneers of Christian modern rock, I had the crazy notion you’d be interested. After all, you’ve written a parcel of books for Christian publishers. You’ve long talked about the need to impact the culture. Well, here were people who took that notion to heart and actually did so. Seemed to me like it’d be a natural for your show. Just a few minutes; enough to get the word out. No big.

I was wrong.

Even after I sent you a copy of the book through your personal assistant, not a word. Now before you or anyone else (more on said else anyones later) reply with I’m/he’s busy and can’t possibly get back to everyone who contacts me/him, a brief reminder. We’re all busy. All of our time is valuable. By my reckoning, the single mom trying to juggle child rearing, working more often than not one job, and everything else life has thrown her way is far busier than both of us combined. So no, no whining about being busy is admissible.

Oh, but I did hear back from your radio show’s producer Duane Patterson. Boy, did I hear back. According to him, no interest whatsoever. The show is politics from start to finish. No time for anything else. When pressed, he responded time and again with heaps of insults and name calling. Rather disrespectful, don’t you think Hugh?

As noted, there was your loyal core of fanbois and gurrls who were aware of my efforts. They followed both your lead in ignoring me and Mr. Patterson’s lead in belittling me. How DARE I speak less than glowingly of the great and good Hugh Hewitt! How DARE I waste a nanosecond of his time, or that of anyone connected with him! Infidel! Unclean! RINO!!! Which leads to the musing about how in a conservative media world, both old and new, where endless self-promotion is not only mandatory but routinely lauded and reciprocated, I was burned at the stake for attempting … self-promotion.

So, Hugh, you can imagine my reaction to your comments at the NRB convention. My personal, direct experience with you, your employees, and your fans stands in direct contradiction to your words. There are several expressions concerning, and descriptive adjectives for, those who say something yet do the exact opposite. No need to list them here; we all know them very, very well.

Instead, let’s try this again.

No, I’m not asking to appear on your show, although I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to spread the word about my podcast playing the music by the artists I wrote about in the book. Instead, I bring to your attention two of these artists with new projects currently going on. Daniel Amos (which is a band led by one Terry Scott Taylor) is prepping a deluxe rerelease of its Horrendous Disc album, one of the true watershed moments in Christian rock. Have Terry on your show. He’s wise and witty. It will be a treat for you and your audience.

Veteran Christian alternative rockers The Choir are currently running a campaign to fund both rereleasing its 1989 Wide Eyed Wonder album and record a new album. They’re also going on tour in a few days. Have the band’s drummer and lyricist Steve Hindalong on your show. He’s wise. Ask him about the band, and about how he cowrote “God of Wonders” which doubtless you’ve sung during Sunday worship. Like Terry Scott Taylor, it will be a treat for you and your audience. And there are many, many more artists who would be positive additions to your show.

Now before you say that’s too much gospel, Hugh, I remind you that Dana Loesch had Christian rapper Lecrae on her show. Is not her show 99.44% politics? Yet she is unafraid to have bold Christians on her show, and equally unafraid to proclaim her own beliefs. Last time I checked, it hadn’t cratered her career. I remember turning on Fox and Friends one morning not too long ago and there was Casting Crowns. Seen FOX News’ ratings lately?

I have no doubt you’ll ignore this, Hugh, just as I have no doubt your sycophant fans will rant and rail against me for once again besmirching your hallowed name. I’ve quite given up caring about such things. It is of primary, if not sole, importance to promote the artists devoting, far more often than not at tremendous personal cost, themselves to serving Christ through music. The world has enough political talk, Hugh. The world has very few political talkers willing to openly embrace and promote the God so many of them say they serve by openly embracing and promoting Christian rockers new and veteran. You have the opportunity. Take hold of it.

Dismiss me as you will. Dismiss God’s servants at your own peril.