Monday, August 31, 2009

My Seasonal Narcissism

Every couple months I like to post what movies I'm watching and what books I'm reading. Although horribly narcissistic in some respects, I actually do believe that the various forms of media we intake have the power to change us and, if we allow it, for the better. So I share that I may be better known, as well as to offer my recommendations, indicated by the title being in bold. Check 'em out...

harry potter and the half-blood prince .. j.k. rowling // the scarlet letter .. nathaniel hawthorne // flickering pixels .. shane hipps // harry potter and the deathly hallows .. j.k. rowling // what is the what .. dave eggers // when you are engulfed in flames .. david sedaris [audiobook!] // the sacredness of questioning everything .. david dark

up // defiance // yes man // away we go // the black balloon // brothers // son of rambow // the visitor // bad news bears // the fugitive // paranoid park // harry potter and the half-blood prince // the hunting party // bella // nick & norah's infinite playlist // public enemies // my left foot // elizabeth // far from heaven // shine // east of eden // in the shadow of the moon // ghost world // my kid could paint that // the flight of the red balloon // tristram shandy: a cock and & bull story // raising arizona // mongol // funny people // the deer hunter // sleepless in seattle // awakenings // LOST: Season 1 // rebel without a cause // julie & julia // in the name of the father // LOST: Season 2 // (500) days of summer // rendition // inglorious basterds // the lives of others // spirited away // the year my parents went on vacation // district 9 // giant

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sci-fi done right

I know I'm a couple weeks late on the recommendation but District 9 was a great movie. It did what all good sci-fi movies should do, have a great narrative using, well, fictional scientific stuff that's all very relevant to the real world.

If you're totally unawares (which wouldn't be that big of a surprise, the movie is/was kind of a sleeper... no big names attached to it besides Peter Jackson giving it a recommendation), the movie released 9/14/09, was filmed & set in South Africa, and is about aliens inhabiting the nation. The background of the aliens' arrival is explained with faux-news footage from the last 20 or so years chronicling the aliens' eventual placement into a slum given the name, District 9.

I'd heard good things about the movie but still had semi-low expectations because I thought that it was just going to be a fairly one-dimensional statement against apartheid. My expectation was that humans were just going to be mean and throw the nice, ugly aliens out of the city. But the movie was very fair in showing that the aliens were very different than humans, that it wasn't as clear cut case as it could have been, giving the movie more credibility in any sort of "point" it is trying to make. Issues of identity and humane treatment also play into the story but, all done without getting preachy. Finally, the action scenes are summer blockbuster worthy but, surprisingly, the story behind is what, I think, will really give it its lasting appeal.

So there you have it, this movie has my recommendation.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Crushes and Questions

I’m not going to skirt around the issue; I have a crush on David Dark. The man teaches high school English at a Christian school somewhere out East, causing me to curse the class-scheduling gods for not allowing me the chance to sit in his English class five days a week somewhere in my high school days, soaking up the wisdom he would have endowed on me. His book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything is his third and, in my opinion, his best.

I saw him speak a couple times at a conference at Calvin University my sophomore year of college. I was taken up by his Southern drawl (he’s originally from the South), accompanied by his slow thoughts that eventually morph into brilliant new perspectives on familiar subjects. And this is why I appreciate the man so much, he has a way of looking at books, music, movies, politics, religion, etc and finds a way to redeem what I simply see as typical, and pulls out spiritual insights that are relevant and devastating to my ordinary point of view.

In The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark focuses on ten, for lack of a better term, subjects. Ranging from God to Government to Our Passions, a rather full spectrum is included in Dark’s analysis. While commenting on Religion, he says, “Religion is born out of questions, not answers. Only a twisted, unimaginative mind-set resists awe in favor of self-satisfied certainty” (22). It is with this mindset that Dark approaches the list of subjects, all the while using cultural references (both popular and otherwise) as well as Biblical back-up (although this is by no means a hermeneutical Bible lesson) to convey his points.

I had plans to go a bit more in depth but I realize that I’d just end up quoting the whole book and, because it covers a variety of topics, I would not be able to adequately summarize much else. So I’ll just end with the recommendation to get a hold of a copy of this book and read it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wait one more time, what again, is the what?

In writing, I paid no heed as to whether or not you, the reader, care if I give away "important details" of the novel. So if you are a stickler on not knowing anything important concerning plot points, stop reading when I insert the [SPOILER ALERT]. Also, I recognize that this book came out in 2006. I am in no way, punctual in my review. The story is still important.

I recently finished Dave Eggers’ book, What is the What. The novel is based on Valentino Achak Deng’s life, starting in Sudan, then Ethiopia, then Kenya, then the U.S. Although it is considered fiction, many of the events occurred in Achak’s life, or were at least events typical of boys in Achak’s situation. Achak is considered one of the “Lost Boys,” those young boys (5-12 years old –ish) who walked for hundreds of miles from Southern Sudan, East to Ethiopia, amidst the brutal civil war tearing the country apart (and remember; this is pre-Darfur crisis).

The novel takes on a first person narrative from Achak’s point of view. With this, Eggers is able to use his deep understanding of how the mind works to provide, often, candid thoughts from Achak as he discovers unfathomable violence, poverty, and, at some points, opportunity. In his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius(the one other Eggers book I’ve read), a similar understanding of the mind’s blunt, yet honest, way of operating is on display, albeit in a much different context. This book also has my recommendation (despite Goodrich’s utter distaste for this offering).

The narrative is told from Achak’s telling in a current day setting. Switching back and forth from life in the U.S. and life in Africa, similarities arise between the two worlds. Addressing the ”What” of What is the What, [SPOILER ALERT] it more or less pertains to a tribal story in which, given the option, the Sudanese chose the more immediate gift of cattle, over the “What”: a higher place in this world. What follows, in Achak’s perspective, is that the Sudanese must then live their lives without the “What.”

Achak’s life, somewhat of an archetype for all Sudanese people, is pestered with abandonment, a lack of a home, and, at the core of the matter, a lack of identity. And perhaps even deeper than this feeling is that he feels a lack of existence. While there are moments where he is recognized (and humanized – times such as when he receives his passport or when he receives help from those in the U.S.), his status in the U.S. does not differ greatly from his life in Sudan. Wherever he ends up, he falls on the lowest rung of castes. Yet he, and those with him, persevere and tell their story. I think he comes to the conclusion that he does exist, despite what he has experienced in his life.

The book ends with Achak addressing the reader: “All the while I will know that you are there. How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

You Had Me at Hello

Amidst the opening scene of Quentin Tarantino's newest, Inglourious Basterds, I was captivated by the slow, beautiful shots that Tarantino seems to have a knack at capturing. The German SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) politely makes conversation with a French man hiding Jews underneath his house. In what is easily the best performance of the movie, Waltz holds the audience captive drawing conflicting sentiments of hatred and enjoyment towards himself. In the following four acts (resulting in a full 2 1/2 hour film time), slow moving conversations drew me in, only to be interrupted by the occasional bloody scene or brief action sequence.

While very distinct from his other films (I believe this to be his only period piece thus far), the marks of a Tarantino film are evident throughout the movie: the movie is split up into five acts, the credits and framing of shots often mimic those of yesteryear, music is used abruptly and effectively to add to the scenes, over the top gore/violence run rampant.

It is under this context that I was approached with a slightly different movie than I had thought I was going to see. The trailers (misleading, in my opinion) set the movie up to be a care-free violent jaunt of some American Jews who don't know where to stop. They certainly take center stage but they're also joined by a cinema-owning Jewish girl who devises a plan to kill some of the Nazi leaders. If anything, it is the clever, Jewish girl that really does the dirty work for the Basterds and if anyone is heralded as a mastermind, it is Landa, the SS Colonel (well, until the very end...). Lt. Aldo Raine (played well by Pitt) served more as the comedic relief rather than someone to whom the enemy was really afraid.

As with most Tarantino films, I wasn't really sure what to do with the severity of the violence and gore. I certainly find the over abundance of blood, etc. (specifically within American movies) to have a crippling effect on our ability to be properly shocked by inhumanity in the real world. Yet in Tarantino films, the amount and degree to which he uses gore goes beyond any sort of "normal" amount. I don't know if he does this just because he likes a lot of blood (which is plausible, given what I've seen of Quentin) or if it's suppose to be some sort of commentary on other movies or if it's just suppose to heighten our sense of humanness (and the basic nature to which we often resort). Feel free to comment if you have any idea on that...

And to finish this informal review, an open letter:
Dear two girls and guy sitting in the back row-
yes, you three sitting one row behind me and approximately six seats to my left. I understand that you're in early high school and the most popular and exciting thing to do at your age is to "hang" with one's friends as much as possible. I understand that you like to spend hours together talking about nothing at all. What I do not understand is why you pay $5 for a matinee showing that is going to be packed full of people excited to see the most recent Quentin Tarantino film. I also do not understand why you talk through the entire movie, giggle at the serious moments, and, generally, have zero respect for the thirty people within earshot of your incessant girl voices. I do not find violence to bode well with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing would make me happier than to punch each of you in the face.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Today's Musings

A blog for no other reason than I am bored.

I'm currently in the midst of 4 (maybe 5...) books, all of which are fantastic. Harry Potter 7 is currently taking the place of "most read" and boy am I loving it's children's book greatness.

For those interested, I'm planning on substitute teaching for a year while working another part-time job for a year. Future possible plans include teaching (English in the states) or working in higher ed... both of which require more schooling. Hopefully the next few months of living at home will help me in finding what I really want to be doing with my life. Who knows, I could also just go with my initial thought of working for a non-profit here or abroad.

I applied to work at a coffee shop today. The one downside is that it's about 20 minutes away but I loved everything else about it. It is independently owned ("damn the man"), there are great couches/tables/places to drink (I love the atmosphere), it's downtown Howell amidst other "hip" stores, the people working there seemed to enjoy their lives, the application asked personal questions, not just references/former jobs (they care more about persons than most places I've been applying to). I hope it works out...

David Sedaris is a hilarious author (memoir-ish stuff). In one of the final chapters I was listening to (he's great on audiobook...) he described an encounter with a 9 year old by in the swimming pool at a YMCA: (paraphrased)
9-year old boy: Do you believe in God?
Sedaris: No.
9-year old boy: Why?
Sedaris: Because I have hair on my back. There are people in this world who rob and kill and destroy and have no hair on their backs while I have hair on my back. That's why I don't believe in God.
9-year old boy: You're going to burn in hell.
A frequent contributer of NPR's This American Life, you should check him out if you're looking for a light read (/listen) with a sophisticated tone to it. Warning: most of his books contain R-rated material... don't say I didn't warn you.

Finally, while driving back from the coffee shop, I spotted a license plate that had a Michigan State University S emblazoned on it. The rest of the license plate held the letters AVIOR on it, resulting in a licence plate that read: SAVIOR. I'm not for sure if this was one of those over-anxious Christians who felt compelled to have their license plate somehow make reference to Jesus (and his/her alma mater) or someone audacious enough to claim to be the Savior. Either way, slightly ridiculous.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


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Have a good day.