A good father is hard to find

Kris | Movies | Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

I feel confident that no one who made the movie Joe expected viewers to “enjoy” it–in the sit-back-with-a-bucket-of-popcorn sense of enjoying a movie. I certainly didn’t. And I made the right decision to watch this while Paula was out of town: this is definitely not Date Night material. “How can people live like this?” went through my mind often. So did the word “squalor.” In fact, I think the director intended to compare the lives of these people to the vicious dogs in the film.

Anyway, I’m sure I’m making you want to see it, right? One idea in it that I was intrigued by is the question of what makes a good father, or how a boy becomes a man. Or those two questions together–something about a good father leading his son into manhood. There’s an awful lot of negative modeling here–with emphasis on awful.

Technically the film was well done: great acting and a very authentic feel. The drunk dad is perfectly, perfectly evil in the drunk dad way. He will turn your stomach. Actually, a lot in this film will turn your stomach.

An unexpected vintage

Kris | Movies | Monday, April 14th, 2014

I wanted a relatively short film to pass an hour or so this evening so I browsed the documentaries on iTunes and found Red Obsession. I think I read the first sentence of the synopsis and it said something about the French wine industry, which sounded interesting enough. The film surprised me in several ways–and the best surprise was how good it was.

For one thing, the word “red” in the title turns out to be a double-entendre: I thought it referred to wine; in the film it’s also China, which has a major role. The focus of the film is on Bordeaux chateaux and their history and tradition and craft–and of course their wine. The opening of the film is a great tribute to Bordeaux, and I expected the film to continue to celebrate the artistry.

But then the world changed, prices soared, and investors started buying wine–wine they would never drink. The film turned economic, and I thought I’d lie down and take this opportunity for a nap. But then China entered the picture, with an enthusiasm that was youthful, invigorating–and annoying, as in nouveau-riche annoying. I was staying awake, but wanting them to get back to the craft, the history, the glory. When the giggling Chinese sex-toy mogul was showing off his collection and talking about a bottle of Lafite in every room of the house, I was getting sick. And when they started talking about the fake Bordeaux, I just about had enough.

Then something happened: the exploration of the Chinese culture turned richer. One of the commentators is the daughter of a Chinese and English couple who have been married for 50 years. Her insights were invaluable. And my respect and interest grew rapidly. The film became thoroughly satisfying.

And the music was good too. :-)

If I could write a book, I would want it to be just like this

Kris | Books | Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

The Wind in the Willows has everything I need for a relaxing half-hour before bed: deliciously beautiful language, cozy settings by the fire or in the forest, warm friendships, and an atmosphere of delight in the gift of life.

I’m ambivalent about one character, though: Toad. He seems to be such an annoying kind of person–or at least not at all my type of chap. On the other hand, I love the way Rat and Mole and Badger rally to his side, intervene when necessary, and keep on loving unlovable old Toad. I rather wish I could be like them.

Oscar nominations don’t always align with my taste

Kris | Movies | Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

I resisted watching American Hustle for many months because it didn’t look at all like it would be my cup of tea.

It wasn’t.

Not worth a picture

Kris | Movies | Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Because the Coen brothers have done a few films I really enjoy–especially the wonderful O Brother, Where Art Thou?–I decided to rent and watch Inside Llewyn Davis. My review is brief: I cannot remember seeing a worse film in ages.

His name is holy

Kris | Who can find wisdom? | Friday, April 4th, 2014

Even when abbreviated.

The pain behind Poppins

Kris | Movies | Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Several months ago, when I heard that Saving Mr. Banks was coming out, I rented Mary Poppins and watched it for the first time in about a hundred years. I was doing research and preparation, of course. I was reminded of a few things: how talented (and goofy) Dick Van Dyke was, how long the split live-animated sequence was, how catchy some of the tunes were, and how good the story was. I could also guess that it wouldn’t be popular with children accustomed to more modern fare. But that’s just a guess, and I won’t explain it–because I’m supposed to be saying something about Saving Mr. Banks.

It’s a very good film: great acting all around, especially Emma Thompson and Paul Giamatti; lots of sharp lines for Mrs. Travers (imagine Maggie Smith’s scathing irony in Downton Abbey, but add a pinch of bitters); and two compelling stories: that of the wooing of Mrs. Travers by Walt Disney to win the rights to make the film, and the flashback story of Mrs. Travers as a little girl and the trauma that made Mary Poppins–and that made Mrs. Travers what she was, which wasn’t all that pleasant.

So the film creates an opportunity to reflect on the tragedies of life and how they can become seeds that grow into beautiful, life-giving trees (Mary Poppins), and that can be toxic and ruinous (as they were for Mrs. Travers). But the film isn’t a tragedy: Walt Disney and his team (including the chauffeur) deliver the magic that saves Mrs. Travers.

Watch yer top-knot

Kris | Books | Friday, February 28th, 2014

My long-running interest in the film Jeremiah Johnson led me to pick up the book that collects the sagas behind the man on whom the film is loosely based. Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson, tells gruesome tale after gruesome tale of frontier justice among the mountain men of the Rockies in the last half of the nineteenth century. This isn’t a book for the squeamish. In fact, I’m not sure exactly to whom I would recommend it, other than those who have a taste for the lore of the American West and an interest in the code of the mountain men. I liked it, of course–though I often marveled at the savagery of men, no matter the color of their skin….

Don’t be put off by the title

Kris | Books,Communicating belief to unbelievers | Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

A book’s title is important–a poor title can be a barrier for many people. I never would have read Popologetics if I hadn’t already known some of Ted Turnau’s good work. But I can tell you now that you simply must overcome any sense that the book will be silly (though it has a few silly things in it, because that seems to be Ted). In fact, this is a fine work of scholarship with a very helpful practical model of its application.

The purpose of the book is to convince us that it is important (as Christians) to engage pop culture–and that, in fact, pop culture is worth engaging, being a mixture of truth and beauty on the one hand (as a result of common grace) and lies and ugliness on the other (as a result of sin). I found Turnau’s critique of high-culture elitism compelling.

The big payoff is that after presenting his own model of engagement, he works through five examples in detail: a song, movies, manga/anime, and even Twitter. It’s all great stuff and I hope you’ll read it.

Of the Eagles and Anna Karenina

Kris | Who can find wisdom? | Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

I have my nose in the middle of several books right now, and a few days ago two of them intersected–that is, the ideas in them converged, so that each expounded the same truth about human nature.

One of the books is Popologetics, by Ted Turnau, which I will review soon. Turnau’s book is about how to engage popular culture in a constructive and critical way. He presents a model for such engagement, then applies his model in great detail to five examples of pop culture. One was the Eagles’ 1979 hit song “Heartache Tonight.” Turnau pointed to the sense of inevitability in the song:

Somebody’s gonna hurt someone
before the night is through
Somebody’s gonna come undone.
There’s nothin’ we can do.


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