Exploring where life and story meet!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A link

This is what life is all about, at least life before modern aesthetics!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A new review of a rather old movie: Ivanhoe

I just received a collection of 'romance' DVDs as a gift and will be gradually watching them and perhaps, if so inclined, reviewing them.  It is a collection of some of my favorite books on film so I am hoping they portray them well.  The first on the list was Ivanhoe.  I've never actually seen the movie but I have read the book, and quite surprisingly, they did a pretty good job of sticking to the story though I'd hate to see a more modern remake.  The title character and Rebecca would run off to Spain or something, ugh!  Obviously the effects and cinematography are nothing compared to modern flicks, but unlike modern moviemakers, I know effects do not a movie make.  There is a lot of plot, some very good acting, the characters are truly who they were written to be, and overall I very much enjoyed it.  Strangely, one of my favorite characters was Christopher Lee's Master of the Templar, he makes an astonishingly good madman!  Prince John is a narcissistic sissy you love to hate and played to perfection.  I was very happy with the production.  They did get a little overly romantically dramatic between Ivanhoe and Rebecca as compared to the book, but nowhere near as bad as it might have been were it made now.  The final conflict was not resolved exactly as portrayed in the book, but in six hours of run time, that is a small change indeed!  Overall, if you like the book and can handle older movies with 'cheesy' effects (at least by modern standards) then this is a winner.  If you can't handle long, drawn out plots, lots of good characters, and just want stuff to blow up, then maybe stick with The Hobbit.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

There and back again and again and again: a Review of the third Hobbit Movie

I finally bit the bullet, found a babysitter, and went to the last installment of 'The Hobbit,' and I can't say that it was worth it. I've been dragging my feet, dithering, and otherwise making excuses, and this from the person that once skipped class in graduate school to get tickets to the midnight opening of 'Return of the King,' and went to a movie she'd never heard of in hopes of watching the trailer for the same. I love Tolkien, am a big fan of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy in both its literary and theatrical forms, but I have been very disappointed with the current handling of 'The Hobbit.' To be fair, I will admit I am not a huge fan of the book either, it is a nice little story, but nowhere near 'Rings' in either a literary sense or on my list of favorite books, but it is not meant to be, it was written as a children's story, a lighter, gentler look at Middle Earth than that portrayed in the more serious 'Rings,' and it is this fact that I think which has proven the downfall of the current incarnation of the movies: they tried to make it as epic as 'Rings' and have only made a muddle of things.

I will reference back to one of my favorite characters from the Rings book, Faramir, though his character was horrendously abused in the movies (this is my one major beef with that production). In the books he says, "I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend." This is the whole point of Tolkien Middle Earth saga, Hobbit, Rings, or what have you. Tolkien does not have war for war's sake but to protect that which is worth protecting, but the entire Hobbit trilogy is nothing but a great unending chase or, the last installment especially, a giant, protracted battle. There were a few good moments at the first that gave me hope for this last episode, but alas, they died aborning.

The actors playing Bilbo and Thorin especially were good, but they never got a chance to actually become the characters they play, rather the entire epic is spent in action rather than in exploration and development of any sort of character or plot. I felt like I was watching someone else play a video game rather than watching an actual movie. The whole elf/dwarf love triangle was also weird and verging on creepy, next thing you know Arwen will be hitting on Frodo! Why drag in Azog and the White Council? Why make a trilogy of a book that would make a decent 3 hour movie in the first place? Why were the battle scenes bigger, grander, and cooler than anything in Rings when the Battle of Five Armies (not 'the' Five Armies) was nowhere near that scale? Where did the Wyrms come from and why not use them to greater effect against your enemies rather than just digging holes? Who on earth was ever trying to refound the Kingdom on Angmar? Why make the lonely mountain of huge strategic value when it is actually in the middle of nowhere? Why attack Dale, a ruined town inhabited by refugees, did those scenes mind anyone else of Helm's Deep sans the walls? How did anyone survive anyway, with all those orc hordes and all the good guys annihilated? Five eagles and a bear aren't going to save the day, this looked worse than the Pelennor Fields! This was a story about a hobbit and some dwarves, a wizard and a dragon; it is a journey there and back again, an intimate look at a few characters rather than war on a grand scale, or it should have been.

There was no closure, no wrap up, no epilogue. Return of the King arguably had too much closure, but The Hobbit had barely anything at all. Who lived, who died, what came of them? Where was the moral tale of greed, jealousy, friendship, bravery, and honor? Sure, they had a few touching moments but they seemed a mere afterthought amidst all the grand theatrics. This would make a fine video game but a poor movie. I was sorely disappointed in the affair as a whole, it would be different had Peter Jackson not proven himself with the original trilogy, after that, this can be nothing but a dismal failure. There is no storytelling, only action; no character or plot, only blood and suspense. He has shown he can tell a good tale but that is far from the case here, only the video game junkies can find much to admire in this muddle; there is no story at all.

Perhaps modern aesthetics require all action, no subtle plot or characterization, nothing over which we must mull and chew and think, only blood and guts and glory with no moral underpinnings or thoughts of greatness to disturb our vain and shallow lives. We prefer to muddle on in ignorance and indifference, much like the denizens of the Shire when the world beyond their borders is on the very verge of collapse and then sneer at the returning heroes as if they were the ones who were mad; perhaps it is an unwitting and ironic commentary on the sad state of the modern mind in the Western world.  If you like carnage, action, and battle scenes, this movie is awesome. If you want a touching story with a smattering of adventure and danger with interesting characters and an actual plot, go read the book or find a different movie!

Monday, January 5, 2015

On herding cats

This article is a study in the absurd and the disturbing.  Was no one else forced to read an anti-utopian novel like 'Brave New World' in high school?  What kind of sense does it make to say that though studies show over and over again that marriage is the best place to raise kids and the best way to keep women and kids out of poverty we had best get rid of it since American society can't figure out how to make it work and replace it with some new, trendy system of planned parenthood and co-parenting?  This is like abandoning the concept of wheels because you have a flat tire!  I begin to wonder if the people that think of things like this have ever been parents or were even children themselves.  Kids are not some commodity to be produced at out leisure, disposed of it not what we desired, and then managed like a prize show dog or a pro-football player to please our fancy.  They are people, independent and often stubborn people.  And if we can't handle marriage, how on earth are we going to subscribe to some intricate system of planned conception and co-parenting with someone with whom we have no other relationship than a shared biological offspring?

Marriage isn't broken, humanity is flawed.  We are naturally selfish and American culture encourages this trait to an unhealthy extreme, but marriage and parenting is about sacrifice and putting others first.  It is the cornerstone of society and the crucible in which we become better people.  It is not for our own happiness, pleasure, and to fill all our dreams and desires, this is the problem: we have a distorted view of what marriage and kids are all about and then are disappointed when our expectations are not fulfilled thus the problem must be marriage itself when it is actually our view of it that is the problem.  Many people have kids or get married to fulfill some desire for companionship, love, or purpose and while these are innate to such relationships, it cannot be the basis upon which the relationship is founded or disaster will result.  Parenting is all about doing what is best for the kids, not in fulfilling your desires through them; marriage is the same, it is about doing what is best for your spouse and the relationship, not in finding a 'soulmate' and living 'happily ever after,' though if done correctly, that is often the result.  It is like pursuing happiness, it is never caught when chased but is rather encountered along the way to something greater.

I can't imagine what the fairy tales will be like in millennia to come if this lady's vision comes true.  No more 'brave prince rescues imperiled damsel and then they ride off into the sunset to a presumed marriage, family, and happily ever after,' but rather a couple of people decide they want a kid and make the necessary arrangements and shuffle the kid between them as necessary to fulfill their own parenting desires.  That doesn't sound much like a story I'd want to read let alone live.  As a child of divorce who was thus shuffled, I can't envy these 'planned' children who will one day find this normal!  Kids need a loving, stable home, not to be passed about like an unwanted fruitcake.  The good news is that throughout human history, the fairy tale ending has been the norm and all these 'Brave New World' scenarios usually die aborning because they make as much sense as that article.  People don't live that way, won't live that way, unless coerced, save a few 'progressive' individuals and that is their choice but please don't foist it unwillingly on the rest of us.  Marriage will long out live any newfangled social reforms, we need only give it time, history has proved this time and again.  But it will only thrive in a culture where people can look beyond their own immediate wants and desires to something greater than themselves.  We don't need to get rid of marriage, we need to grow up as a culture and as individuals.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Writing on writing

There can be nothing more exciting than someone writing on the topic of writing, well maybe a geometry theorem, but that depends how you feel about math.  My question is, why do certain people 'have to write' when the mood strikes them?  Does this apply to people who collect squirrel figurines, square dance enthusiasts, and people who enjoy memorizing pi?  I was born this way, it is something of an addiction, does this apply to other preoccupations and obsessions or solely to writers?  But then there are times I actually have the time and intention of writing but nothing to write about.  It is only when I 'have to write,' that I can't find the time or chance to do so, then I get all nervous and shaky like someone going cold turkey after getting hooked on some addictive substance.  Do they have treatment programs for people like me?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Everything's okay, really!

We live in a world of superficial contradictions and metaphysical paradox.  Talk to anyone on the street or look at their social media sites and everything is great, fabulous, perfect, really!  Nobody else on the planet struggles with anything, ever, you are all alone and just plain weird.  Not so much.  Rather, we walk around pretending everything is great when we are barely hanging on, can hardly hold it together.  We want everyone else to think things are okay when we are secretly dying inside, anything to save face.  But it is okay to fall apart, to fail, to struggle, to ask 'why me?'  Why do we lie about our struggles and try to hide them, when it only increases our dismay and loneliness?  Because we don't want to appear weak, vulnerable, or uncool.  Our perception of how others perceive us is of far more value to us than our own well being: it is a selfish sort of martyrdom.

The good news is, we are not alone, everyone struggles with something, but few actually are bold enough to admit it, even to themselves.  We need not be ashamed, isolated, or despairing, for none are perfect nor have the perfect life, despite what they post on Facebook.  Struggle and sorrow are part of what it means to be human, at least in this current manifestation of reality; it is just part of life, so why not admit it and gain strength in the sharing?

But there is even more good news, nay great news!  Everyone struggles, sure, but how exactly does that help, besides to give you some modicum of comfort that you are not alone and it is normal?  It really doesn't, at least in a materialistic sense.  With that point of view, we might as well, 'eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.'  Our sorrow means nothing.  Our grief is moot.  Our struggles vain. So why even bother?  Because there is some innate part of us that knows life is not as it should be; we were not made to live in an imperfect, fallen world.  We assume there must be a 'happy ever after' and are dismayed that we have not yet found it, yet still live on in hopes that it lies round the next bend.  How can we have hope in a world so devoid of meaning?  Either the materialists are wrong or our deepest yearnings are.

If there were no light would we have eyes?  If there was no sound would we have ears?  So why then do we hope and yearn if there is nothing beyond this vale of tears?  Why do we expect perfection in an imperfect world?  That innate yearning in every soul hints at a world, a future that will be fulfilled.  A time when 'happily ever after' comes true.  This is not a pointless story, there is a plot and an Author and a happy ending.  Your struggles, griefs, and fears are not in vain, they are the birth pangs of something better, something greater; they are the stumbling steps upon a path that leads to a world that is truly our home.

As the old christmas hymn puts it, "and ye beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow, look now!  For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing: oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!"  And as another says, "the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."  It isn't just a story, it is The Story, it is your story.  Look a little deeper into 'the reason for the season,' and discover what life is all about; find your own happily ever after.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tis the Season

It is that time of year again, no not the season of shopping and stress, that modern holiday is not one I care to celebrate, rather Advent is upon us once more.  It is the season set aside by the early church in anticipation of the coming King; it is a season of eager joy, personal reflection, repentance, and thankfulness, both looking back at Christ's birth and forward to the Second Coming.  And sadly it has been overlooked, forgotten, and pushed aside by the hecticness that is the modern observance of the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas: namely stress, debt, and stuff, all the antithesis of the original meaning of the season.

I enjoy watching the movie, 'The Nativity Story,' this time of year, as they did a suburb job of capturing the gospel accounts of the events leading up to Christ's birth, if a little cheesy, but I love it for all of that.     They show a pregnant teenager's struggles in a society where such a condition outside of marriage is a capital offense.  We see Joseph, the usually overlooked fiancĂ©, heroically choosing to take Mary as his wife and this unborn child as his own, though it it is a scandal that will mark them the rest of their lives. We see a society in upheaval looking for a hero, a king, a conqueror, when it is a mere babe that has come to save the world from itself.  It is a tale full of beauty, joy, struggle, and hope and a reminder that often the thing least expected or wanted is actually the most important thing in the world, if only we had the ability to see it.

That is what advent is all about: seeing what the world otherwise cannot see.  We stop, we reflect, we are astonished anew, and hopefully come away refreshed and encouraged to go our way rejoicing, for the unthinkable has happened: God became flesh and dwelt among us!  That is the true meaning of the season and life itself, we will not find it rushing about madly to find 'the' gift or in a myriad of insipid parties, gatherings, and festivities.  This is a season of rejoicing and hope, there should be celebration and joy this time of year, but cramming our lives full of stuff and activities will not bring us joy.  Rather, it crept quietly into a stable two thousand years ago and merely waits for us to find it anew.

Of all the Christmas classics you might watch this year, 'The Nativity Story' is a beautiful reminder of what it is all about.  Charlie Brown tries valiantly but it ends as more an afterthought (that and I always find him a bit depressing for some reason).  'It's a Wonderful Life' is a charming story and well worth watching, but isn't quite the 'reason for the season.'  Rudolf isn't even close.  Frosty is cute, but again off course.  If you have the chance, sit down and watch it with your family and remember what the season is truly about.