Friday, August 18, 2017

What We've Been Watching: Horror, India, Action, Satire, and James Bond

European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

To our great surprise, we found this a solid action movie with a classic, if simply put, message of trust and giving of yourself for others. The action pieces were inventive and the whole thing was gorgeous, as one would expect from this director. Sure it was no Hero but it was also not nearly as disappointing as Rogue One.

Bud Baxter is a minor clerk in a huge New York insurance company, until he discovers a quick way to climb the corporate ladder. He lends out his apartment to the executives as a place to take their mistresses. Although he often has to deal with the aftermath of their visits, one night he’s left with a major problem to solve.

A Billy Wilder classic that I watched because Rose said it was a comedy. Actually, satire is a better description. Not as funny as Some Like It Hot and not as dark as Double Indemnity, this film falls in the middle tone-wise as Billy Wilder gives us his take on infidelity and the cost to everyone involved. I loved the performances and the clever contrasting and parallel situations and characters which all helped to make the point. And Jack Lemmon - of course, fantastic as always.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner for modern times, with a horror twist. When a young woman brings her boyfriend home to meet her parents, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead to a truth that the boyfriend never could have imagined.

A well acted tale that shows talent which makes me eagerly look forward to director/writer Jordan Peele's future movies. This much lauded movie does what a lot of good horror does, draws our attention to social conditions by exaggeration to make us think about the horror underneath.

Where Peele does something new is in the group of people he skewers before the outright horror begins. Taking well-meaning, liberal white people to task for the shallowness of their racial equality is a place that no one's gone before, because it is unfashionable to point out such things.

It really felt like a 70's horror movie in a lot of ways, and I mean that in the best possible way.

A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

It is hard to believe this was made by a first-time director, except when I recall several other advertising directors who've wowed the film world.

This is a really skillfully told story that, as others have pointed out, is really two movies in one. The first is that of little Saroo who is lost 1,000 miles from home and lives as a street urchin in Calcutta which is a sort of modern-day Victorian nightmare. The second is of the adult Saroo, who after adoption forgot his childhood memories and had a happy life in Tasmania. Until a sense memory brings it all flooding back and sends him on a journey to see if he can locate his lost family.

I was lukewarm on the story until I had to watch it for a group discussion. The whole thing blew me away. Really, really well told story that feels genuine.

We continue watching the James Bond movies in order. It's the rare weekend when we aren't spying with 007 so we've gotten as far as Moonraker, which was much better than we thought it would be.

This has been an interesting project and I can finally say I've seen George Lazenby's turn as Bond, which I enjoyed immensely. I had no idea they were rebooting the franchise as early as that. It makes me eager to see how the Timothy Dalton movies hit me. But we're still at least a couple of movies away from that.

Worth a Thousand Words: Vase of Gladioli

Gustave Caillebotte, Vase of Gladioli, 1887
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Being, having, and doing

Being is much more significant and essential than having or doing. And the greatest temptation we face is to prefer having and doing more than being.
St. John Paul II

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Well Said: Even ordinary books are dangerous

Elsewhere, someone might have said, "It's just books! Books aren't dangerous! But even ordinary books are dangerous, and not only the ones like Make Gelignite the Professional Way. A man sits in some museum somewhere and writes a harmless books about political economy and suddenly thousands of people who haven't even read it are dying because the ones who did haven't got the joke. Knowledge is dangerous, which is why governments often clamp down on people who can think thoughts above a certain caliber.
Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

Worth a Thousand Words: Garden at Vaucresson

Garden at Vaucresson, 1923, Édouard Vuillard

Genesis Notes: Jacob's Resume

What this overview allows us to see is how clearly Jacob's life changed every time he encountered God. Just like Jacob, our lives too change every time we encounter God. And just like Jacob, perhaps, it is hard for us to see it until we're looking back over our lives.

Jacob and the Angel, Gustave Moreau
Jacob's life had four stages, each marked by a personal encounter with God. In the first stage, Jacob lived up to his name, which means "he grasps the heel" (figuratively "he deceives")... In the second stage, Jacob experienced life from the other side, being manipulated and deceived by Laban. But there is a curious change: the Jacob of stage one would simply have left Laban, whereas the Jacob of stage two, after deciding to leave, waited six years for God's permission. In the third stage, Jacob was in a new role as grabber. This time, by the Jordan River, he grabbed on to God and wouldn't let go... Jacob's last stage of life was to be grabbed -- God achieved a firm hold on him. In responding to Joseph's invitation to come to Egypt, Jacob was clearly unwilling to make a move without God's approval.

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • Father of the twelve tribes of Israel
  • Third in the Abrahamic line of God's plan
  • Determined, willing to work long and hard for what he wanted
  • Good businessman
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When faced with conflict, relied on his own resources rather than going to God for help
  • Tended to accumulate wealth for its own sake
Lessons from his life:
  • Security does not lie in the accumulation of goods
  • All human intentions and actions -- for good or evil -- are woven by God into his ongoing plan
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Canaan
  • Occupation: Shepherd, livestock owner
  • Relatives: Parents - Isaac and Rebekah. Brother - Esau. Father-in-law - Laban. Wives: Rachel and Leah. Twelve sons and one daughter are mentioned in the Bible.
Key verse:
"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:15).

Jacob's story is told in Genesis 25-50. He also is mentioned in Hosea 12:2-5; Matthew 1:2; 22:32; Acts 3:13; 7:46; Romans 9:11-13; 11:26; Hebrews 11:9, 20, 21.
All material quoted is from the Life Application Study Bible. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Blogging Around: Right Wing Asshole, the Miracle and the Jihadist, and Charlottesville

Ask Andrew W.K.: My Dad Is a Right-Wing Asshole
You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you. ...

The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen.
Ask Andrew W.K., The Village Voice
Truer words were never spoken. Go read the letter and Andrew W.K.'s whole response. Via Tony Rossi.

The Miracle That Saved a Priest From a Jihadist’s Knife
I don’t know what I prayed at that moment. I was very afraid, and I told Marie Alphonsine, “It can’t be by chance that I’m carrying you with me. If it is necessary that the Lord take me while I’m young, I’m ready, but if not, I ask you that no one else die.”
And what happened next was a miracle. Get the whole story at Aletia.

Charlottesville — Two Articles, One Answer

Former neo-Nazi Joseph Pearce (yes, that Joseph Pearce, now a well known Catholic author) examines Charlottesville Through the Eyes of an Ex-White Supremacist
I recall three separate occasions when I confronted an enemy with hatred and enmity and received in return love and friendship. In each case, the receiving of love when I was expecting hatred sowed seeds of healing in my hate-battered heart. ...

This is the challenge we face in the wake of the horrors of Charlottesville. It is to love our enemies. We should not demonize the white supremacist or the abortionist, but should love them into submission. We should not prey on them but should pray for them, hoping that, in the future, by the grace of God, we can pray with them.
Matthew Archbold looks at a moment of grace in The Suprising Thing That Happened in Charlottesville. Mark Heyer, father of the young woman who was killed, shows Christ-like love.
He spoke of forgiveness. “I include myself in that in forgiving the guy who did this,” he said. “I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’ … I hope that her life and what has transpired changes people’s hearts.”

Words like that are the only things that can.

Mark Heyer called the young man who killed his daughter “stupid.” And that's the thing. Hate is stupid. It makes you that way. There's a reason they call it “blind hatred.”

"Everyone wants the key to finding God, but there is no lock"

If you’re looking for a retreat that will bring you closer to Jesus, Julie Davis will be happy to be your retreat guide. You won’t even have to leave your house – and neither will she. She conducts this retreat of sorts in her book “Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life.”
Tony Rossi sums up the two-part Christopher Closeup radio interview we had in a really nice written interview at Aletia. Read the interview here and find links to the podcasts of the interview at the bottom of the piece.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What I've Been Reading: Adventure, Noir, and Investigative Reporting

TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson
After outsmarting a band of buccaneers, young Jim Hawkins crosses the Atlantic in search of buried treasure. Jim and the ship’s crew must brave the elements and outwit the ruthless pirate Long John Silver.

I listened to Alfred Molina's superb narration of this classic adventure story. I remembered only the beginning and that only sketchily. As the story progressed I was caught up in it and couldn't wait to get back to listening. It is truly the ultimate adventure story, expertly told.

Right up to the end I was continually being surprised by plot twists. No wonder this story is still beloved by so many.

THE TRUTH by Terry Pratchett
William de Worde is quite surprised when his printed page full of "things written down" is suddenly incredibly popular. As he publishes Ankh Morpork's first newspaper, learning as he goes, William becomes involved in solving a murder. And, thus, he also becomes Discworld's first investigative reporter.

As I continue working  my way through the Discworld novels in order I wasn't thrilled when I got to this one because it's a stand alone novel. I am much more attached to the books which are part of the several series within the Discworld books.

However, Pratchett was clearly on a roll and this book does have enough of the Watch and other regulars from Ankh Morpork that it was both enjoyable and good. Watching everyone adjust to the idea of having the media report on their actions was worth the price of admission, especially since a lot of that adjustment came from the person who inadvertently invented the newspaper in this book. Fun and worth reading.

It was a simple enough case, but don't they always start out that way? When a pair of His and Hers private detectives get involved, the sparks start to fly and the blood begins to spill in earnest. With every shot that's fired, the hole digs a little deeper, and the list of people our sparring shamuses can trust gets shorter and shorter.

Fans of Decoder Ring Theatre's long-running full-cast audio series Black Jack Justice will delight in the very first meeting between Jack Justice and Trixie Dixon, girl detective. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this hard boiled detective story when it came out in print. As a longtime fan of Decoder Ring Theater's Black Jack Justice series, I could hear the voices of the main actors as I read. It was lively, humorous, and had all the banter one expects from a Chandler-esque novel.

Now they've done it one better and brought the book out in audio format. So you can actually hear the voices of the actors as they read the book. Perfect!

IVANHOE by Sir Walter Scott
Set in the familiar time of Robin Hood, evil Prince John, and good King Richard, this adventure tale has it all. It is not precisely about those three characters but they are major players. I read this for my book club (the adult equivalent of a high school reading assignment when it is for a book you've managed to avoid for years).

Consequently I listened to B.J. Harrison's excellent narration to help me get into the book. And it worked. I initially enjoyed it it on the level of adventure novel, a la Treasure Island.

I was surprised at the inventive plot twists, the laugh-out-loud humor, and most of all at Rebecca. Here is someone who is female, from a despised group, and who is only valued by most for her beauty. Yet, she is articulate, quick witted, and will not allow herself to be used as a pawn or allow others to get away with facile explanations for their own evil actions. What a role model!

Overall, Ivanhoe was a reminder not to avoid a classic just because the first chapter seems a little difficult or because one thinks the plot is hackneyed. Highly recommended.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Valkyrie

The Valkyrie via Brandywine Books

Well Said: Using Time

Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.
Jean de la Bruyere

Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary (with some modern science commentary)

Adam and Eve with the Virgin Mary (detail), Correggio, Assumption of the Virgin
via Khan Academy
On November 1, 1950, Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption. Thus he solemnly proclaimed that the belief whereby the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the close of her earthly life, was taken up, body and soul, into the glory of heaven, definitively forms part of the deposit of faith, received from the Apostles. To avoid all that is uncertain the Pope did not state either the manner or the circumstances of time and place in which the Assumption took place — only the fact of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into the glory of heaven, is the matter of the definition.
Catholic Culture, where there is a lot more info
Each year on the Assumption of Mary I like to revisit this from The Anchoress. Because it blows my mind. And the Assumption is a good time for mind-blowing. This was originally posted this at Patheos where the original post link no longer works, sez:
When studying Anatomy and Physiology in college, the lesson that briefly discussed fetomaternal microchimerism, became instructive to me on a different level. Learning that every child leaves within his mother a microscopic bit of himself — and that it remains within her forever — the dogma of the Immaculate Conception instantly became both crystal clear and brilliant to me.

Mary, then, was indeed a tabernacle within which the Divinity did reside — not for a limited time, but for all of her life. Understanding this (and considering how the churches seemed to get it ‘way before microscopes told us anything) the Immaculate Conception made and makes perfect sense: God, who is All-Good is also completely Pure; the vessel in which He resides, then, must be pure, too, or it would not be able to sustain all of that “light in which we see light itself.”

Microchimerism also relates to the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, as well. In the psalms we read “you will not suffer your beloved to undergo corruption.” Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption. It follows that his mother’s body, which contained a cellular component of the Divinity — and a particle of God is God, entire — would not be allowed to become corrupt, either.
I believed it anyway, but that made sense on several levels. Incredible.

Assumption of the Virgin, Correggio
where the above detail is included
Click through to the link to look at it enlarged.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: The Hammock

The Hammock, Joseph Rodefer DeCamp, 1895

Well Said: Not knowing how the world works.

Barry would have been all right if he hadn't become a physicist. But all that nonsense about mass and energy got him believing he really knew how the world worked. And he didn't. He never did. And that's what got him killed.
Jack McDevitt, The Devil's Eye

Memorial of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, priest and martyr

I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me - a stranger. Is this some dream?

I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I owe to him the fact that I could tell you all this. The news quickly spread all round the camp. It was the first and the last time that such an incident happened in the whole history of Auschwitz.

For a long time I felt remorse when I thought of Maximilian. By allowing myself to be saved, I had signed his death warrant. But now, on reflection, I understood that a man like him could not have done otherwise. Perhaps he thought that as a priest his place was beside the condemned men to help them keep hope. In fact he was with them to the last.
Testimony of Franciszek Gajowniczek,
for whom Maximilian Kolbe offered himself at Auschwitz
I have long admired Maximilian Kolbe for a lot of reasons. The most famous story about him is that of his martyrdom, when he stepped forward to offer himself in place of a married man with children.

Before World War II, Kolbe traveled to Asia and throughout Europe teaching and preaching the Gospel. He used the latest technology with the most modern printing and radio techniques. He planned to begin a motion picture studio. And then he was imprisoned in 1941 by the Nazis. He was known for walking among the bunks at night, quietly saying, "I am a Catholic priest. Can I do anything for you?"

When a prisoner escaped, Franciszek Gajowniczek was one of the ten men chosen for death in retaliation. He sobbed, "My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?

Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward before the commandant and said, "I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children."

It took the prisoners over two weeks to die, imprisoned with no food or water, but the sounds of hymns and prayers came from the room until only Father Kolbe was left. The room was needed for more prisoners so he was killed by injection and his body was burned in the crematorium. I often think of what a blessing his presence was and what a difference he made in helping those men in their ordeal.

Maximilian Kolbe was canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II and declared a martyr of charity. He is the patron against drug addiction and for drug addicts, families, prisoners, journalists, and the pro-life movement. He was declared "The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century" by Saint Pope John Paul II.

I think of the problems we face in our culture, the technology we have available to use in spreading the good news, the choices we sometimes are faced with ... and Maximilian Kolbe is modern enough to be a shining example of how to show God's love and truth.

Truly Saint Maximilian Kolbe is a saint for our time.

More indepth reading:

The Maltese Falcon and the God Shaped Hole - on SFFaudio

Jesse, Paul, Maissa, and I go to surprising places in our conversation about the classic hard boiled detective story, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Catch it at SFFaudio!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Well Said: Getting Older

You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”
George Burns
This makes me think of Raymond and Thelma, my grandparents. No matter how much older they got, they were never old. They are my role models in many ways and this is one of them.

Worth a Thousand Words: Evening at the Coast

Evening at the Coast, taken by Remo Savisaar
This makes me long to be in Galveston.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Mufti Reading in his Prayer Stool

Jean-Léon GERÔME, Mufti Reading in his Prayer Stool
via French Painters

Well Said: Conversion and the Looking Glass

Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.
Evelyn Waugh
I really can't add anything to the perfection of that observation. It does explain the depths I suddenly began seeing in the everyday world.

Glen Campbell, rest in peace

It's funny. My mom loved Glen Campbell so, as a kid, I thought of him as pop music. (Also based on the radio stations he was often played on. I'd never heard of "crossover" music.) And my family was very snobby about country music so I never associated him with that.

Then I married a country music lover (to be honest, he loves practically every sort of music) and just listening to that wild variety began a broader education. Imagine my surprise when he highly praised Glen Campbell and talked about what he did for country music. I had to listen with new ears ... and heard a master.

Recognizing a lot of the famous faces around him in that clip made me realize that I knew a lot more about country music of that time period than I realized. Seeing their admiration warmed my heart.

Glen Campbell was brought vividly to mind when one of my favorite BBC radio shows, Soul Music, did an episode on one of Campbell's iconic songs, Wichita Lineman. You can listen here.

Many thanks to Marc whose email brought all this to mind and inspired this post.