The destructive power of unforgiveness

Kris | Films | Monday, September 22nd, 2014

I haven’t read George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, so I can’t say anything about the faithfulness of the 1997 BBC adaptation of it. I did have the feeling, though, that I was being cheated of a lot of the story–this version is less than two hours long, and some of the transitions seemed a bit quick. But as a film it’s powerful and leaves a strong impression.

The impression is of the cruelty, irrationality, and destructive power of a prideful unwillingness to forgive one’s enemies. Emily Watson plays Maggie, and she becomes the sink who receives and bears the most unjust consequences of the hatred and bitterness that her father and brother refuse to relinquish. Even when their perceived enemy is willing to be reconciled, they will have none of it. Watson makes sure we feel the tragedy of it.

A sobering film. Someday I’ll read the book.

Five stars for the brisket

Kris | Films | Saturday, September 20th, 2014

I like food. Although I’m far from being some kind of foodie, I appreciate people who work creatively with food–and especially those who recognize the goodness of God that is mediated through food (Psalm 34:8), and who treat food “sacramentally.” Of course, in Chef there was no evidence that the characters delighted in Anyone beyond the food itself–yet, because they are inescapably the images of God, they create beautiful reminders of his glory. For those who have eyes to see, the glory of God shines bright through a Texas brisket. That’s what I liked about this film: the sequences that savored the wonder of good food.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I liked about it. It could hardly have been more predictable–which isn’t always bad for a story, but in this case it hobbles it. The way twitter was a major character annoyed me (I think it was meant to be cool, or at least cute). And I’m always put off when films put young children (in this case a 10-year-old boy) in “adult” situations (where “adult” doesn’t mean mature, but rather vulgar and base). I did appreciate, however, the reconciliation and growth within the main family, regardless of how predictable it was. So I suppose I liked two things about the film.

I need a new word

Kris | Miscellany | Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

According to, escapism is “the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc.” But as I see things, the current “reality” is pure escapism–everything is swallowed up by fantasy. And I’d really like to escape all the escapism. So what would I call that?

Pretty good judgment

Kris | Films | Friday, September 12th, 2014

Over the past few days I introduced my younger sons to a couple of Tom Cruise’s classic lawyer performances: A Few Good Men and The Firm. Both are excellent, of course: good stories and fine acting. But each also had it’s just-a-little-too-cheesy moment at the end that tainted it. In A Few Good Men it’s the soldier turning to salute Cruise; in The Firm it’s his wife telling him how she loved him even before she met him. Too much! Still, great films.

Back in the USSR

Kris | Books | Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Isn’t it wonderful that two books such as, say, Pride and Prejudice and Anya Von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Longing, can be so vastly different, and yet both so engaging and delightful? I’ve long been fascinated by the (to me) inconceivable reality of totalitarianism in its Soviet incarnation. Von Bremzen, a girl of ten when she and her mother left Russia in 1974, delivers a cornucopia of a book, full of food, history, memoir–and all of it giving the flavor (not always pleasant) of life in the USSR.

A glorious book!

“Are you finished with Anna Karenina?”

Kris | Films | Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

That’s what Paula asked me last night as the credits rolled on the 2012 Keira Knightley adaption of Anna Karenina. I think I should put adaptation in bold typeface, for this is a bold adaptation. Not all of that boldness is good–in fact, I found the highly choreographed and stylized sequences of the film at first to be mesmerizing and intriguing–and distracting. The production called too much attention to itself, as if to say “Look at me! Look at me!” Well, I looked. So?

I was impressed with the way the script captured sweeping sections of the story in a line or two–but I wondered how much of its success depended on the fact that I just recently read the novel. I suspect that ten-thousand details from the film would have been lost on someone who had never read Tolstoy. And that reminds me that the script was written by Tom Stoppard, who also wrote Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead (a favorite of mine), a film that I think would be difficult to enjoy without being pretty familiar with Hamlet.

So, did I like it? Sort of. But things happened so quickly that there was no time to develop Vronsky as someone in any way likable, someone you could ruin your life for. The Levin-Kitty relationship, my favorite from the book and the BBC adaptation, also does well here–though I had a hard time warming to the portrayal of Levin in this film.

Are you getting the mixed-feelings signal yet? I think that sums up my reaction. And my answer to Paula’s question was, Yes.

Anna Karenina, BBC-1977-style

Kris | Films | Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

When Paula and I finished reading Anna Karenina we started watching the 1977 BBC mini-series adaptation of the novel. The production had a very stage-play feel to it, mostly filmed in a studio, and most of the acting a bit exaggerated. But when you account for that it was reasonably interesting and watchable. The casting seemed solid to me: the actress who played Anna reminded be a little of a British Suzanne Pleshette, and the actor who played Karenin was good at being Karenin. As in the book, our favorite characters were Levin and Kitty, and they receive a fair treatment here and provide a great contrast to the doomed Anna and Vronsky. In fact, to us, Levin and Kitty are far more interesting and enjoyable than Anna and Vronsky. I think I’d even change the book’s title….

A postscript on catechisms: resources

Kris | Faith and Life | Friday, August 22nd, 2014

As I tried to convey in my previous post, the Heidelberg Catechism is a precious instrument to lead us closer to Jesus. If I at all piqued your interest, you might also benefit from a few resources that have helped me.

The first, of course, is the online version of the HC.

Another gem is a lecture on the HC by Carl Trueman. His discussion of assurance of salvation and the reformation is profound.

Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett is superb in its historical survey of catechisms and suggestive of ways to use catechesis in the church today.

If you know of other resources, please add them in a comment.

In praise of catechisms: especially of Heidelberg

Kris | Faith and Life | Friday, August 22nd, 2014

When I was in the second or third grade there was one day of the week on which some of my friends couldn’t play because they had something called “catechism.” As a Southern Baptist child I had no idea what that was–it sounded intimidating. I might have been in awe of them. When I made my way into the Presbyterian church in my twenties the mystery was removed, and I learned to appreciate the Westminster Shorter Catechism in all its glorious precision. Some years later I met the Heidelberg Catechism and I once again fell in love–this time with Jesus.

I wrote the following little article for some friends in Slovakia who don’t yet feel affection at the mention of catechisms. But they are interested and open, so I offered them this bit of persuasion entitled, “Why Use the Heidelberg Catechism?” (more…)

Burt’s Buzz … zzz …

Kris | Films | Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

I’m glad I didn’t compel Paula (or anyone else I like) to watch this documentary film about the father of Burt’s Bees: Burt’s Buzz. Much of it was as exciting as watching an old man with a bushy beard pick his teeth, or talk to his dog on skype. In fact, we are treated to both in the film. Burt turns out to be eccentric, but not in any particularly striking or interesting ways. A touch of drama begins to build as we learn about how truly isolated this man is–at one point someone says of him that he is not available for the love of another human being. But if that is a profound loneliness, it isn’t really explored satisfactorily, and it drew from me very little response. That might be because I’m cold-hearted–but I don’t really think so. I think Burt’s Buzz could have been much better, that’s all.

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