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George Herbert’s Poetry

Though private prayer be a brave design,
Yet public hath more promises, more love:
And love’s a weight to hearts, to eyes a sign.
We all are but cold suitors; let us move
Where it is warmest. Leave thy six and seven;
Pray with the most: for where most pray, is heaven.

– George Herbert, The Church-Porch, 67.

Rambling Review: Much Ado About Nothing

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Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is a modern spin on the classic Shakespeare play.  On the whole his stylish interpretation is highly entertaining, driven by Shakespeare’s witty dialogue and a capable cast (many of whom have appeared in Whedon’s other works).  I especially enjoyed the characters of Beatrice (played by Amy Acker) and Claudio (played by Fran Kranz).  How can you not be engaged by Beatrice’s rapier wit?  And the facial expressions Kranz brought to Claudio’s character were as impressive to me as his delivery of the dialogue.

(SPOILER ALERT)

However, there is one glaring problem with Whedon’s Much Ado: the opening scene.  The movie begins with what is clearly the end of a one night stand between Beatrice and Benedick (played by Alex Denisof).  Though “modern,” Whedon’s choice to give Benedick and Beatrice a history causes significant dissonance for the remainder of the film.  When Benedick is later led to believe that Beatrice loves him, one of the three attributes that he extols of her during a soliloquy is that she is “virtuous.”  Why would that matter to him since he’s already slept with her?  Further, the tension that is created between Claudio and the object of his affection, Hero (played by Jillian Morgese), is directly related to her sexual purity.  Why should her purity matter in a world of promiscuity, as Whedon portrays?  He holds fairly true to Shakespeare’s dialogue, and would have been foolish not to, but the climax of the movie (brilliantly acted) loses some of its power because of the contemporary context Whedon attempts to infuse.  So, if you’re a fan of Shakespeare and/or Whedon, definitely see this film.  You’ll probably enjoy 95% of it.  Shakespeare’s mastery still shines through despite Whedon’s lack of virtue.

Gina Delfonzo of the The Atlantic wrote this excellent review.

Beginning with an Empty Page

518F1cSOFzLA couple of years ago the writings of Patricia McKillip were recommended by Jeffrey Overstreet.  I began with The Alphabet of Thorn, then read The Book of Atrix Wolfe, and am presently reading The Bards of Bone Plain.  McKillip is a beautiful writer, and masterfully weaves the power of story and words into her own stories.  The very subject she is creatively exploring she is also creatively employing, setting off the reader’s imagination to wonder about words.

In the following excerpt, from Chapter Seven of The Bards of Bone Plain, McKillip deftly describes the challenge of beginning to write.

He sat at a table in the school library later, thinking idly of the encounter, then of Jonah, and then ruthlessly clearing his head to think of nothing at all.  He gazed intensely at a sheet of paper, breath suspended, a word on the quivering point of his pen poised and waiting to fall.  Monoliths of books and manuscripts rose around him. All were crammed with words, words packed as solidly as bricks in a wall, armies of them marching endlessly on from one page to the next without pause.  He forced the pen in his tight grip a hairsbreadth closer to the paper so that the word stubbornly clinging to it might yield finally, flow onto the vast emptiness.  Point and paper met.  Kissed.  Froze.

He sat back, breath spilling abruptly out of him, the pen laden with unformed words dangling now over the floor in his lax fingers.  How, he wondered incredulously, did all those books and papers come into existence?  In what faceted jewel of amber secreted in what invisible compartment of what hidden casket did others find that one word to begin the sentence that layered itself into a paragraph, that built itself into a page, that went on to the next page, and on, and on?

Rambling Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

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Alternate title to this post: “Oz the Great and Powerful…Not So Much.”

I have to admit that my expectations were probably a little bit higher than they should have been going into this movie, but the previews were tantalizing; Sam Raimi is the director (Spiderman trilogy); Rachel Weisz is in it; I’ve liked James Franco in other movies; and having enjoyed Alice’s most recent trip to Wonderland , I was especially looking forward to the re-imagination of the land of Oz.  So, what was my overall reaction to the movie?  General indifference.  As Steven Greydanus puts it, “When I look at it, I believe this is Oz; it’s only the story, characters and dialogue that fall flat.”

Spoiler Warning!

The movie has some nice moments, and it doesn’t take long to realize that the movie is supposed to be fun.  There’s plenty of humor when Oz (played by James Franco) is introduced, especially the interaction with his assistant Frank (played by Zach Braff).  It’s clear that Raimi has respect for the 1939 classic, “The Wizard of Oz,” and there are plenty of hat tips in that regard.  Starting the movie out in black and white, with the screen at a 4:3 ratio is one of them.  As the moviegoer, once Oz arrives in the Land of Oz you know the screen will widen and reveal brilliant colors.  Which it does.  Later in the movie the Munchkins begin to sing, but Oz cuts of them off and tells them to “Take five.”  It’s  funny because you expect Munchkins to sing.  So the movie has its moments, but they’re too few and far between to sustain it in the midst of its weak story and dialogue (as already noted).  Rachel Weisz does well with her part.  Mila Kunis is not convincing at all, and the only lasting impression of her is that she has a beautiful face (maybe that works because she’s later turned into the Wicked Witch of the West), but the delivery of her lines is empty.  Also, her skipping down the yellow brick road seemed very out of place.  Was I supposed to think of Dorothy from the 1939 film?  I did, but the image didn’t fit.

Perhaps the greatest reason I was disappointed with the movie is because it flirted with a great idea, and then didn’t really do enough with it.  The best scene in the movie is when Oz repairs the China Girls’ broken legs with super glue.  In the context of the movie, you’re to think back upon the crippled girl that challenged Oz in Kansas to make her walk (both played by the actress Joey King).  To the China Girl, Oz’s use of super glue is magical, and later on Oz comes to a semi-realization that he does possess a certain kind of “magic” through his scientific knowledge.  The problem is, though, that neither Oz’s character development nor his dialogue really bring this out in such a way to make you believe that Oz sees the “magic” in his “ordinary” scientific knowledge.  Perhaps it is expecting too much for Sam Raimi to channel “The Ethics of Elfland” from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, but if Oz could have had an epiphany that Kansas was as magical as the Land of Oz, then that would have been something great… even powerful.

Dark Knight Trilogy Chiasm

Douglas Jordan came up with the following structure of the Dark Knight Trilogy, and, since he doesn’t have a blog, he gave me permission to reproduce it here.  Due to significant formatting issues, I had to insert the chiasm as a JPEG, so my apologies regarding the clarity and the ongoing formatting issues below it.   I have also added a few further observations that Doug made as part of an online discussion of his proposed chiasm.  Enjoy.

Dark Night Trilogy Chiasm

I missed an obvious entry. Between B & C, we have Gordon comforting Bruce after his parents die. Between C’ and B’, we have Batman referring to this event. Even have a flashback.

It’s no coincidence that there’s a prison at the beginning and end of the story, or that Batman’s trapped down a well (we even get a flashback to his childhood). His descent into the underground prison is clearly intended to mirror his ascent to the mountaintop. On the mountain, he learned Al Ghul had a wife. In the underground prison, he learns about Al Ghul’s child, and there’s a flashback to the mountaintop scene where he first learned about the wife. Also, a vision of Al Ghul approaches him in the prison, just like the living Al Ghul visited him in prison in the first film.

The flashback with Gordon putting his coat around Bruce is clearly intentional (in order to comfort Gordon, Batman reminds him of the way that Gordon once comforted him), and the inspiration caused by his parent’s death and Batman’s “death” mirror each other well.
I think it’s also
intentional that in both the first and third movie Wayne Enterprises technology falls into the wrong hands and threatens the city.

In the second movie, the contrast between Dent’s character at the beginning and end of the film is clearly intentional — that’s why in the final sequence Batman repeats the phrase that Dent said in the very early restaurant scene, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” I suspect having the bat signal so near the beginning of the film and the end is also intentional.
The third movie makes it very clear that the turning point of Batman’s career is Rachel’s death.

My chiasm might be a bit too detailed, and probably works better at a higher level. For example, I find the parallel between Falcone’s insanity and Blake’s promotion to be a bit forced. 🙂

Anyway, one of Nolan’s mastered skills is flashbacks (every Nolan movie I’ve ever seen has a number of them), so at the end of his movies he wants us to be remembering what happened at the beginning, and I think he was very deliberate to do it for the trilogy as a whole in the latest film.

Just had another thought about the parallels between the dinner scene and the final scene of The Dark Knight:

Dent: When their enemies were at the gates the Romans would suspend democracy
and appoint one man to protect the city. lt wasn’t considered an honor,
it was a public service.

Rachel: Harvey, the last man that they appointed to protect the republic was named Caesar and he never gave up his power.

Dent: Okay, fine. You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Caesar was one of three members of the First Triumvirate. I wonder if Nolan had this in mind with this exchange near the end of the film:

Batman: You don’t wanna hurt the boy, Harvey.

Dent: lt’s not about what I want, it’s about what’s fair! You thought we could be decent men
in an indecent time. But you were wrong. The world is cruel. And the only morality
in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair. His son’s got the same chance she had. Fifty-fifty.

Batman: What happened to Rachel wasn’t chance. We decided to act. We three.

“We three.” Another Triumvirate.

Hutchmoot Reflections

Last weekend I had the privilege and pleasure of attending Hutchmoot 2012.  Putting the experience into words is no small feat, and any attempt on my part to do so would result in certain failure.  The previous two Hutchmoots were wonderful in their own right, but I cannot remember being as utterly exhausted in the past as I was this year.  (Based on Facebook posts, I wasn’t the only one dragging on Monday, taking catnaps, or falling asleep early that night).  A sick two-year old and an eight-month old may have been contributing factors to being more tired going into Hutchmoot this year, but there is also a weariness that can come from trying to soak in so much truth, beauty, and goodness.

The sessions were rich, and though I wished I could have attended others (where’s a time-turner when you need one?), I am not sure how I could have absorbed much more.  Having concerts three nights in a row was amazing, and Evie’s cooking was a partaking of her love and God’s love as manifest in the harvest of the earth and the fruit of the vine.  But even more, the stories that I heard from fellow brothers and sisters amidst the fellowship shared around tables  was, perhaps, the most encouraging aspect of the weekend.  I heard of brothers doing a marvelous work for the poor in Modesto, CA.  I heard of families seeking to be faithful in the churches where God has placed them, and their desire for their children to grow in their love and knowledge of the Savior.  What I heard was testimony after testimony of believers endeavoring to be faithful to Jesus their king.  And when I stepped back and thought about how spread out we Hutchmooters are, and how new or small our endeavors may appear to be, I could only be encouraged and conclude:  “Aslan is on the move.”

Mercy Realized

Flannery_O-Connor_Southern_Writer_Fiction_1In reading Flannery O’Connor this summer in conjunction with an ongoing reading and discussion over on Jonathan Roger’s blog, I came across this especially poignant passage from The Artificial Nigger.  Of course, it has more impact within the greater context of the story, but makes a certain impression in its own right, too.

Mr. Head stood very still and felt the action of mercy touch him again but this time he knew there were no words in the world that could name it.  He understood that it grew out of agony, which is not denied to any man and which is given in strange ways to children.  He understood it was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker and he suddenly burned with shame that he had so little of it to take with him.  He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it.  He had never thought himself a great sinner before but he saw now that his true depravity had been hidden from him lest it cause him despair.  He realized that he was forgiven for sins from the beginning of time, when he had conceived in his own heart the sin of Adam, until the present, when he had denied poor Nelson.  He saw that no sin was too monstrous for him to claim as his own, and since God loved in proportion as He forgave, he felt ready at that instant to enter Paradise.

Rambling Review: Brave

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I had a mix of expectations when going to see Pixar’s newest film, Brave, this afternoon with my wife and oldest boys.  An original story featuring a heroine was intriguing to me, given that Pixar had not done so to date, and to set it in Scotland looked even better.  I stayed away from reviews that began to pop up at the end of last week, and tried to ignore Facebook statuses that might give something away.  Still, sometimes one can’t help but hear murmurs, and what was coming back to me was that Brave‘s story was not as strong as some of Pixar’s past endeavors.  I think that is a fair assessment.  Now, this is not to say that Brave isn’t a good movie, because it is.  Nor am I saying you shouldn’t see it, because I still recommend it.  However, the captivating sense of the stories that you have in Toy Story 1, 2 or 3, The Incredibles, Up, or Wall-E (which are my favorite Pixar films, so I am admitting by bias) is missing with Brave.  Maybe another way of saying it:  this Pixar movie didn’t quite feel like a Pixar movie.  It was missing that certain quality (a point Deborah readily made after the movie was over) that drew us to the first Pixar movies, and left us eager for more.  I wanted that experience with Brave, but it just didn’t deliver.  I don’t think anyone expected Cars 2 to be be amazing, and it wasn’t.  It was entertaining, but not profound.  So perhaps my expectations were too high, and Pixar’s past successes have set a standard that now makes it difficult for them to match.  However, they’ve done it in the past, so why not again?  I wanted Brave to be added to that list of favorites.  I wanted to love the story, and from the beginning I thought I would, but pretty soon the mother-daughter conflict, paired with the sympathetic but bafoonish father  caused me to think that this was just another telling of one of Hollywood’s usual mantras that they’ve been trying to cram down our throats for years.  However, to its credit, Brave takes some unexpected twists and turns, and while the movie itself tries to tell you that it is about being brave enough to change your fate and destiny (blah blah blah), I think the story has a deeper point.  The story is really about being brave enough to accept responsibility for your words and your actions, and the consequences they can bring.  Brave makes that point profoundly, and is what really makes the movie.  The animation is superb, particularly the impressive attention to detail given to Merida’s hair.  That sounds almost funny to say, but it genuinely adds a certain visual richness and texture to the movie.  Also, there’s an overhead shot of a ruined castle by the sea that will momentarily have you believing you are seeing footage of a real place.  I laughed a lot, especially in the early going, and the movie ends on a strong note.  Go and see it, and then let me know what you think.

Story Time 2

I suppose it has been a busy couple of years, which can partly explain why I haven’t taken the time to post some of the stories we’ve discovered or particularly enjoy reading – or more correctly, the stories the children want to hear.  So here are two that stand out in particular of late.  The Seven Silly Eaters, written by Mary Ann Hoberman, and illustrated by Marla Frazee.  9780152024406The story is inventive and rhythmic, and fun to read, and any mother will quickly relate to Mrs. Peters’ predicament – or at least the sense of it.  But what we’ve come to especially enjoy are the beautifully drawn and detailed illustrations.  (In fact, Marla Freeze’s work was so impressive, that it sent Deborah looking for more of her work).  While the drawings reflect the written story, they also deepen the story with artful details, so be sure to take the time to carefully study the illustrations.  We seem to pick up a new bit here and there with every reading.

Another story that has received numerous readings over the last couple of weeks is How to be a Baby By Me the Big Sister, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Sue Heap.  htbabcoverClever and witty, you will laugh out loud as the big sister informs her baby brother about what his life entails, and how hers contrasts by comparison.  Viewing ordinary activities (such as  eating, bathing, and riding in a car) through the eyes of the big sister proves to be a humorous endeavor.  The colorful illustrations are bright and simple, another charming quality of the story, and be sure to keep an eye on the baby’s animal friends.

Rambling Review: The Avengers

__The_Avengers___Movie_Poster_by_themadbutcher“HIGHLY ENTERTAINING.”  That’s about the best way to describe The Avengers.  Go see it on the big screen, and you will be glad that you did.  While I would not say it is the best comic book movie I have ever seen (The Dark Night still holds that spot in my mind, and Batman Begins might be second on my list), it was an impressive weaving together of superheroes, featuring their skills and personalities in effective amounts.  Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the movie was the witty dialogue, coupled with humorous moments.  Certainly we have Joss Whedon (director and screenplay writer) to thank for that.  (Remember how much you enjoyed the banter and one-liners in FireflyThe Avengers has some of that feel to it).  And, really, that is the sense that a movie like this should have.  This is a movie about comic book characters, after all, so there should inherently be an element of fun to it, and Whedon accomplishes that.  The special effects and fight scenes are over the top in the right way for a movie featuring superheroes, gods, and humans with ridiculous skills.  Again, go see the movie and ENJOY it.

SPOILER ALERT:  Having unhesitatingly recommended the movie, here are a few ways in which I think it is lacking.  First, if you haven’t seen the previous Marvel movies associated with the characters, especially Captain America or Thor, you’re going to be a little bit lost in the early going.  Second, I would have liked a better story, on the whole.  Given the source material, Whedon and company did a good job, but the story of John Carter is more intriguing and entertaining.  Third, I couldn’t help but think that if they had just knocked off the top of Stark tower that it would have closed the portal.  Yeah, I know it’s a comic book movie, etc. and aliens spilling into our world from another dimension is far-fetched to begin with, and maybe my practical solution would not have worked for some other reason, but I got hung up on that for about a minute or so until Iron Man saved the day.  And related to this, Thor was a little bit underwhelming in the final fight.  Seemed to me that he should have been as effective as Hulk against the giant, flying monster things.  Nevertheless, go see it and have a grand time.  Scenes and lines will stick with you, and you will ll inevitably talk about them with friends and family that have also seen the movie, which adds another level of fun to it as well.  Oh, and Mark Ruffalo was a spot-on choice for Bruce Banner.