Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The World's Slowest Film Critic Strikes Again

Yes, indeed, I am probably the world's slowest film critic, not because I spend months formulating my review and analyzing a movie but rather I live at the back end of forever and our little theater takes awhile to get the new releases, but it is worth the wait and even if you are already watching 'Beauty and the Beast' on DVD, I've finally seen it in the theater and am no worse for waiting a few months.  First off, the original release is my favorite animated movie and one of my favorite movies of all time.  Second, I've read a few reviews and analyses of the film out of curiosity and went in not expecting much, as it seemed no one had truly enjoyed the film as much as their memories told them they liked the original.  Third, most of those reviews were written by men; I have nothing against men, they are lovely creatures, except when it comes to things like Jane Austen and movies like this (I am equally hopeless when it comes to action and war movies by the way!).  My husband (and my friends' husbands) absolutely refused to go, which was fine since it meant they could have a 'playdate' and watch the kids while we went and had an afternoon out, overall I think everyone was happy!  But I think there should be a law that guys aren't allowed to review romantic movies and girls can't review war flicks, but that's a whole other blog post.

I was ready for a wooden Belle (I haven't seen Emma Watson in anything since the second 'Potter' movie!), household objects so unbelievable and stiff that I would never get lost in the story, and basically a film that never should have been made as the original was quite sufficient (thanks guys!).  I loved it.  I really did, this from the person who can't make it through a second sitting of the 'Hobbit' but is a diehard LoTR fan and hasn't decided if she likes Star Wars VII yet (also a huge Star Wars enthusiast).  And taking a non-random poll of my companions (three thirty-something gals and one ten year old) it was unanimous, at least the ten year old didn't fall asleep like she did during Rogue One, though her slurping on her soda drew me momentarily out of the movie's spell for a trice, but as that is my biggest complaint about the movie (and has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie itself) I think that's good news.

It was fun, it was pretty, it was charming, it was enchanting, and there was enough of a difference from the animated version that I'm very glad they did it.  Think of it like the Titanic movie (shudder) or Pride and Prejudice (which has been done what, 50 times?): we all know the plot inside out but there is always something more to discover, some angle we have not yet explored.  For one, Belle actually had personality!  The 2005 Pride and Prejudice is hard for me, Keira Knightly is just too snarky to play the gentle, considerate but witty Elizabeth and I was afraid the same fate would befall my beloved 'Beast.'  But Belle needed a little snark, I remember one scene in the cartoon where she's kneeling on the floor grinning like an idiot (think of your 8 month old Golden Retriever after you've patted him or called him a good boy), it doesn't matter she's a prisoner and the whole village thinks she's nuts and she'll never see her father again and the beast just might eat her for dinner, but those singing tea cups sure make life great again.  As far as Disney Princesses go, Belle's one of the better ones, but there are moments when she reminds you who owns the copyright!  Miss Watson holds her own and did so phenomenally, she was Belle, but she wasn't the two dimensional (literally) character from the original, and I thought it a nice change.

My biggest beef about the Hobbit was the phenomenal cast that never got to act.  The guy who plays Gaston finally got a chance to do something other than slay a dragon during the opening credits.  He was actually very good, managing an initially less repulsive but much dimmer version of the villain before becoming shockingly nasty at the necessary moment; you almost thought twice about loathing the fellow.  The rest of the actors were very good, and I even got past hearing Gandalf whenever the clock spoke, though now I'm afraid I'll see/hear the bumbling head of household now whenever I rewatch Lord of the Rings; Cogsworth vs the Balrog, hmmm?  My only major complaint was that the candelabra's bad French accent was a little annoying.  The new music was beautiful and unlike Les Mis, actually added something to the magic of the film.  The added backstory was nice and fleshed out the tale (perhaps not necessary in a cartoon, but nice in a feature length film).  And boy could people sing!  The ladies in Les Mis were amazing but the guys really left me flat, not so in this film!  They did leave out or change some of the words to those well known songs, which they have every right to do, but when you are trying to sing along, it makes it tough, but eventually I'll watch this one enough to have it memorized too.

Their attention to detail was fabulous, and watching it for the sets and costumes alone would have been enough.  My one bit of consternation was on the equine front, but that was a problem in the original as well, namely the 'where's Timmy?, Lassie go find Timmy' meme, but it is a fairy tale so I guess I should just accept it as part of the magic.  I don't get Felipe (now played by a wonderful Andalusion, because every poor villager owns a cart horse on par with Shadowfax!).  One minute he's afraid of the beast or the wolves.  And at other points he's okay with the beast and comes to rescue Belle's dad from said wolves.  A minor point, but annoying, but in a movie where the silverware talks, I guess I shouldn't expect a horse to act like, well, a horse!  This is a Disney movie after all, the on screen presence has very little to do with the reality of the actual model, at least not since films like 'Old Yeller' have gone the way of the dodo.  I just wish people would remember that deer don't actually talk the next time they visit a National Park and try to get a selfie with a buffalo!  They did have a gypsy vanner in the movie, which was fun, I'm not sure I've ever seen that breed in an actual movie, they had one in 'All Creatures Great and Small' a time or two, but this is the first recent movie I've seen with one in it.

Overall, I was very impressed and will likely even buy the DVD.  But as I am the last person on the planet to watch it, this poor little review will likely not be of interest to anyone, but then, is anything I have to say?  You can at least enjoy the movie, at least all those of the female persuasion!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Have you ever been watching a movie or reading a book and the protagonist makes some silly (or dreadful) decision and you find yourself yelling at the unwitting character (while anyone else in the room gives you a really strange look) not to do it?  As a parent I find myself the most frustrated when my child does not live up to his potential or makes a decision contrary to his best interests.  I catch myself wondering at the choices of friends and family likewise, only to find myself in a certain situation making decisions just as addlebrained.  Why do we do it?  Even the great Apostle Paul seemed to struggle with it, 'For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,' even Jesus commented upon this perplexing tendency that dreadful night in the garden to His groggy disciples, 'the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'  Why do we make such stupid decisions?  And not just once, but time and again!  It is the root of all the fairytales: someone does something foolish or silly and suddenly they or another are thrust into some strange quest that must be accomplished to rectify the matter.

As G.K. Chesterton observed in 'Orthodoxy:' "the true citizen of fairyland is obeying something that he does not understand at all. In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone."

Why, oh why, do we eat the apple again and again, world without end?  And like the fairytale, our unfortunate decisions come at a cost, one we cannot pay.  But also like the fairytale, there is a hero, one willing to pay the price, to rescue us from our own foolishness.  With that bitter bite, the 'hope of God' fled, but our Hero ventured boldly forth to bring hope back to the world of men.  That's what Easter is all about!  After all, happily ever after isn't just for the fairytales.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

As men of old have sung

"Where is your god amid the suffering?"
"If there were truly an all powerful, caring god, why does he not intervene?"
"Why do bad things happen if god is so good?"

Good and relevant questions, asked by every single person at some point in their life, but a very poor argument against the Christian God, but asked continually down through the ages by determined atheists, clueless about theology.  The modern atheist is far from the first person ever to scoff over the promises of God:

“He saved others; he cannot save himself.  Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

In the above scene from Mark's Gospel, we see the civic and religious leaders of the day, along with the criminals dying alongside Him, asking the very same thing.  "Where is your God now?"  Even Jesus Himself, with His dying breath, asks it, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

As the old hymn goes, 'Isaiah 'twas foretold it,' but not only the mysterious birth to which the carol refers but also the reason He came and the death He would die:

"He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors." 
~Isaiah 53 (ESV)~

Why do bad things happen? Why is evil rampant in the world?  How can a good God let it happen? The short answer is: we broke the world and are suffering the consequences. The long answer? I am certainly not wise enough to answer that question, even Job didn't dare ask any more questions upon that topic, admitting truthfully that we mere mortals are but dust, what can we know about the universe and its functioning, let alone the particulars of a certain life or event?

But the better and more practical question is: Where is God in the sorrow, the suffering, the shame, the despair? And the answer to that is easy: right smack dab in the middle of it! He is the 'man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.' Instead of brushing our broken world under the rug, He stepped right down into the middle of our wretchedness, took on flesh and lived as a man and more astoundingly died as one, taking upon Himself the sins of the whole world, bearing the penalty for our wrongs that we might share in His joy.  That's what Easter is all about: the answer to all the grief, pain, evil, and suffering in the world.  Yes, things are still a mess and will continue to go wrong, but we're not alone or without hope, and someday we will have our happily ever after!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A pen mightier than despair

There's a new movie coming out ('To Walk Invisible') exploring the lives of the Bronte sisters and I'd really love to see it; then they can make one about the life of L.M. Montgomery.  I was really disappointed with 'Becoming Jane,' not because it was a bad movie, it was really well done, but rather  it didn't end like one of her novels (and yes, I know they probably shouldn't change history to satisfy my sense of justice and need for happy endings!).  I've never been a huge biography fan for just such a reason: we expect the happy ending right now but we don't know, in most cases, how the ending really does happen, even if it is really the end, or more likely it is just the beginning of another story and what we want as the happy ending (the marriage of Miss Austen) may actually turn out to be a bad ending for other reasons (would she have become a famous authoress or would the world have been deprived of her genius?) but it is fascinating to read the fictional works of certain authors and guess at what their real life experiences must have been like.  Good writing is a window, though often of stained glass, upon the soul of the author, the briefest glimpse into the very heart of their being.  That's why books can be such good friends: they have a soul, a connection, a living, vibrant pulse behind the words rather than just a collation of facts and cold, unfeeling ideas, which is why you never befriend a newspaper or get chummy with a magazine.  And of course we all have very different ideas of what makes an attractive friend, thus our varied taste in literature.

Looking over my list of dearest literary companions, I discover that I'm an anglophile out of place and time, and of the ladies on that list (Austen, Montgomery, C. Bronte, Alcott) I find passionate souls that are full of wit, wonder, and vibrancy but who have also lived through things with a quiet courage that defies comprehension, horrible things that seep into their writing and oppress their eventually triumphant heroines who shine out the stronger, even if in their own personal lives there never was such a happy ending, but for us, their grateful readers, we have only to pick up our favorite volume to relive that 'eucatastophy' time and again.  Were these remarkable ladies triumphant over bigotry or suppression based upon their sex, an institutionalized evil that worked against female authors at the time?  Is it of this I speak?  I know nothing of their struggles in that arena, rather I think  a more insidious evil was theirs to overcome, one that haunts many of us without our even knowing it.  Our society is in full rabid cry against sexism, racism, homophobia...choose your form of institutionalized bigotry, which in general is no bad thing, but what it overlooks is the tyranny of the domestic and its tragic effect on each and every one of us.

Our home lives shape us dramatically, telling us what is 'normal' and 'good' and 'right.'  No family is perfect and all fall short in some aspect or other; we also each have choices and decisions to make about our own lives so we cannot blame everything on our parents, but those who play a significant role (or abdicate those roles) in our young lives have a dramatic effect on how we think, act, and behave as adults.  Broken homes, abuse, abandonment, neglect, lack of discipline, indifference, no or too much responsibility, spoiling, harshness, lack of love, instability...you can survive it, but it warps you.  Perhaps that is why I love these authoresses so much: they write about such things, their characters (and they themselves) have lived through it and still manage to thrive.  It gives me hope, it gives hope to each and every one of us.  There aren't any grand explosions or swashbuckling adventures in these tales; no dragons or unicorns or wizards.  But their heroines overcome obstacles no less daunting, and are perhaps the more honorable for it, though there are no crowds to cheer or kings to grant favor and titles when they return triumphant.  Perhaps no one knows but their own small, quivering self.

How can I write such stuff?  Have I proof?  What historical facts do I know of these women's lives?  I know little to nothing but what is revealed in their fictional works, what I myself have lived through, and how your own personal experience can effect your writing.  You could perhaps talk to a number of people and do extensive research on the subject and come up with a feasible fictional example of abuse and neglect, privation and fear.  But these ladies write with the knowledge of someone who lived through it, neither did they have access to sociological studies, the internet, great libraries, or the chance to personally interview hundreds of such victims.  They are survivors, or closely acquainted to survivors, of the worst hardships domestic life can offer up.  Not murder per say, but the slow and gradual working of despair on a sensitive heart by those that should love it best, but they are not worn down and destroyed, rather they rise up, if only in the realm of words, and say that life is good, family wonderful, and the world still beautiful even amidst their disquiet life.

I just reread Montgomery's 'The Blue Castle,' and came away thinking she had written my biography (except my in-laws aren't fabulously wealthy).  She lived through something.  Austen's Lady Catherine is too superb a character to have sprung solely from the realm of imagination, I wonder who the inspiration was?  'Jane Eyre' is likewise haunted by grim visions of a gothic domestic scene known only to those who have dwelt long therein.  All of Alcott's 'little women' wrestle with exactly what happiness is, exploring many shades of the domestic scene and the triumphs and perils attendant thereunto.  I can't wait to hear the full tale behind the tales one day, at least I hope that I will!  They give such hope to those who suffer and endure in silence, those who struggle day to day just to cope and survive, let alone smile, but we are promised so much more than smiling: our weeping shall turn to joy.  They have seen that far off dawn of hope through the bitter winds and rain of night, they have heard the strains of fair music from a far country echoing faintly in grim and silent lands, and they have passed those hints, that hope, that fleeting joy on to us, who yet struggle through the 'slews of despair,' who wander aimlessly in the 'valley of the shadow of death.'

They perhaps did not have the expected happy ending that we all demand, but they certainly wrote them and we, their blessed heirs, can rejoice thereat.  I think of my own grandmother, unable to have children herself, adopting three kids out of the foster care system: abused and neglected by their biological parents, afflicted with various mental and emotional hindrances.  One dying young, another a drunk to this day, the third a selfish manipulative monster who blamed everything on them. She did not see her own happy ending during her lifetime, but without her efforts, my own life would be rather dreadful: we owe much of our 'happy middle' to her perseverance through the greatest afflictions that can try a mother's heart.  So stand strong, even when life and everyone you love seems determined to destroy you, when no one knows your pain and struggle and heartache.  Even if you can't see a happy ending on the horizon, know that your struggles are not unseen, your efforts and courage are not vain, as long as you stay true, good can yet come of it, be it a story beloved by generations or great grandchildren who are happily oblivious to the grim reality that was life as usual to generations past.