Tuesday, December 31, 2013

80 Books I Read in 2013

  • This is probably bragging. But I'm feeling rather proud of myself, so here's the list. It's been a good year. I set the goal pretty early on, but didn't actually expect to reach it. About a month ago, I started getting a bit strategic and finished the last eleven books, throwing a few short ones in. (Hey, Les Mis and Middlemarch ought to have counted for several.)

Long story short, I finished the last two before lunch December 31.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas - The Greatest Eucatastrophe


Eucatastrophe: a sudden joyous turn in a dark tale—the happy ending "a piercing glimpse of joy...that for a moment...rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through."

“The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—particularly artistic, beautiful, and moving: ‘mythical’ in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of creation.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Stephen Meyer Makes Me Feel Cool

I'm not much of a scientist, but like everybody, I have a sort of popular culture science learned by osmosis. Increasingly, lately, creationism has seemed so uncool to me that I was tempted to slap the title "theistic evolution" on it just to feel more intelligent. I knew, of course, that that wasn't really based on any knowledge of science, and have been meaning to do some research, just to be informed.

Well, this worked quite well as a refresher to my high school biology class, and certainly gives me some talking points whenever evolution enters the conversation. It also clears up a lot of misconceptions about the Intelligent Design group.

Also, Metaxas is hilarious and charming as ever. Enjoy.



"Darwin's Doubt" with Stephen Meyer from Socrates in the City on Vimeo.

Longish

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Doctor Who is a God - Science Fiction and the Worship of Man

I've come to two conclusions about Science Fiction. First, if there's any chance of enjoying things like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who, one must embrace the inherent campiness of it. Chewbacca? Alien octopuses in robotic shells that have no emotion but hate? Yes, please. The other conclusion? Stay tuned.

Over the last few weeks, I've watched enough New Doctor Who episodes to get a pretty fair grasp of the show. I know not to call him Doctor Who, but The Doctor. I can hold my own in a conversation that throws around terms like "Cybermen" and "Daleks" and "Time Lords" and even (ugh) "Slitheens." 

For those of you who don't know - Doctor Who is about a 900-year-old shape-shifter who travels through space and time in a ship shaped like a 1950's police-box and saves various realities from malign species, accompanied by amusing, usually female sidekicks. He never dies, but regenerates every few years into another member of RADA. And yes, it's about as campy as it sounds, but there are moments when it transcends its genre.

Here's the thing: I really wanted to like this show. I really did. And I did like it, through the first season. It was season two that killed it for me. (I am compelled to add, however, that season 3 pulled me back into the fold, thanks mostly to Donna Noble.) After what I realized watching the second season, it can never be quite the same.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Indiana Jones Hits Middle-Earth



When I walked into the theater today, I had the title of this post ready and waiting. Last year's review was entitled "A Great Adventure, But Not as Great as it Could Have Been." The second installment had already earned the tag of "Terrible, But Not as Terrible as it Could Have Been."

*Many spoilers*

It turns out I was wrong. Like the first film, Desolation is certainly a mixed bag, but coming up on my horrendously low expectations, it quickly soared into my good graces.

The first movie was so disappointing for several reasons: Radagast. The Goblin King. Stupid dwarf humor. Black magic. Boring visuals. Lazy, ham-fisted foreshadowing of the other films. Ridiculously large, cartoonish action sequences. Not being Lord of the Rings.

How does film two compare? (I know I did the same thing for Thor 2, but it's late at night, these are first impressions only.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

2014 BBC Mystery

Yes, the gang is all here, but who is this new person to the right of Molly?
Source

This is older information - for the latest, follow this link. 

My last mystery post, on 2013 mysteries, had several series that are still yet to come out, but their release date is a little bit more certain.

Sherlock Season Three is now certainly coming out in 2014, with a January 19 release date for the U.S. The Beeb has also announced a December 25 minisode, though whether that'll extend to us on the other side of the pond has yet to be seen. Needless to say, the hype is getting pretty loud, since it's been two years since season two's cliffhanger ending, and the speculation is intense. The greatest question is: why does Watson have a mustache?

Martin Freeman's real life partner, Amanda Abbington, will be joining him on-screen as his wife, Mary Morstan, which ought to be fun. Lars Mikkelson is signed on as the new villain, and certainly has large shoes to fill after the amazing Andrew Scott.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Do You Hear the People Sing? - Guest Post from Allan Long


[Longish: I haven't written anything for the blog in a while, amid the craziness of NaNoWriMo and school, so I thought I'd fill in the gaps with this wonderful Facebook post of my dad's.]

There are occasions that God provides us with glimpses of what heaven may look like. Or at least what it would feel like. Apparently music is a part of that. What a wonder music is. The Bible mentions it in passing and one is left to wonder what melodies Jesus may have hummed while scribbling in the sand or planted beside a campfire. I think of the angels and their heavenly hosts praising God upon bearing the good news of peace on earth, goodwill towards men. And David trying to sooth the savage Saul with music. 

For this moment, I will not get drawn into disparaging secular music. I am not so jaded as to say all secular music is unholy. That would be the same as saying all work – not in God’s direction – is unholy. God can make beautiful things out of dirt (or Garth Brooks... Cher? That may be a stretch). Our feeble attempts at praise are laughable. Like a child that sings "Twinkle Twinkle….”, not understanding the vastness of space, furious nuclear explosions of unimaginable extent and forces that the best of minds cannot fathom. Yet sing they do.

Which brings me to this video. It brings out great things in men. Unity in purpose. Passion. Excellence. And while this is not a hymn, it is a short jump to make the connection that were the focus or purpose of this performance to be God almighty – hearts would be broken. I love this video. Because it makes me think about heaven in a ridiculously hopeful and joyous way. Heaven will be a lot about praise in every tongue. It will be this kind of music (x1000^100 for those math junkies) in a spectacular way. We see now darkly – but then face to face. We will see Christ in His glory and begin to get an appreciation of our helpless estate and the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf. I look forward to heaven for many reasons and new music in dimensions unknown will be a part of that. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

And for the record, I’d like to see the Irish guy and the Norway dude go head to head. They don’t have voices. Those are weapons…



Allan Long

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thor: The Dark World - Review

Source

In the beginning, there was darkness. 

Okay. A bit sketchy theologically, but I’ll buy it. 

And the darkness had no personality. Or character arc.

In short, it did not work as a bad guy.

First time I saw it, I didn’t like the prievious Thor movie. Then I grew up, watched it again, and thought, “Hey, this is a good movie. This transcends superhero movies.”

It had a number of things in its favor.

  1. It was directed by Kenneth Branagh.

  1. To offset its necessarily over-solemn Norse god feel, we spent a lot of time in a small town interacting with ordinary people. Utilizing this idea to far more effect than Iron Man 3, this link to the commonplace grounded the film firmly on, ha ha, Planet Earth. It didn’t take itself too seriously. Thor the god of thunder was spotted in a T-shirt. Thor the movie could’ve been corny as all get-out. Instead it was amusing, moving, and possibly even a little deep (for a superhero movie.) 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Children of Men - Review & Quotes


You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night….
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
(Psalm 90 ESV)

To those familiar with the mystery genre, P.D. James is a very prominent name. Her series, featuring poet detective Adam Dalgliesh, is among the best contributions in modern mystery. However, she has also written standalone books, among them the dystopian philosophical novel The Children of Men. After listening to clips from a 1992 interview with James on Mars Hill Audio, I decided I must investigate.

There are a lot of doomsayers out there, but one of the most compelling arguments I’ve heard is the idea that those countries with the greatest birth rates will rule the world, as described by Mark Steyn in his book America Alone. America, for instance, is scraping by at just above replacement rate, which means we'll soon have an enormous elderly population alongside a much smaller young generation - there's no chance one will counterbalance the other. It's already happening in Japan.

The Children of Men is an extreme realization of that possibility, and it's simply an amazing novel. (EDIT: Interestingly, Mark Steyn drew inspiration from the book, and is acquainted with its author.) While ultimately falling short of its potential, it touches on a huge variety of relevant themes: apathy, power, hypocrisy, hope, death, worship, love, and above all, the sanctity of life.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Happy Birthday, P.G. Wodehouse


I grew up watching Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as, respectively, omniscient valet Reginald Jeeves and spineless but eloquent aristocrat Bertie Wooster. Wodehouse's books, while light weights, are a beautiful example of meticulous attention to excellence. Yes, they're romantic comedies, but they're the best romantic comedies you'll ever read. The father of modern comics like Terry Pratchett and Stephen Fry, and continuing the grand tradition of G.K. Chesterton and Jerome K. Jerome, Wodehouse was one of the funniest men to have ever lived.

I'm perfectly aware that I'm a day late. I'm also very ashamed of myself for not having a post prepared.

In penance, I hereto link to two excellent posts on P.G. Wodehouse. The first is for the new initiates:

"Simply put, Wodehouse is a black belt metaphor ninja."
Who Is P.G. Wodehouse, and Why Should It Matter to Us? - by Douglas Wilson

This is more in-depth, and if you have a sweet tooth for philosophy...

"The best answer to Friedrich Nietzsche we've managed yet to come up with is the prose of P.G. Wodehouse."  
God & Bertie Wooster - by Joseph Bottum

And these are also superb:

Jeeves and Wooster - Episode 1 - "Jeeves Takes Charge"


Enjoy.
Longish

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Les Miserables - When It's Good It's Very, Very Good - Part 2


Warning: Absolutely packed with spoilers. Though I know this is 100+ years after it was published, most of the major plots twists in this book were ruined for me through the internet. So. I'm warning you.

In the first half of this post, I reviewed the story and more practical elements of Les Mis - in this follow-up, I get into the philosophy. That's code for: this will be boring to everyone but Hannah Long. Also, I am writing this from a Christian perspective, and am critiquing ideas by comparing them to theology, so Prepare Yourself.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Foyle's War - Sunflower Episode Review


My review of last week's episode: The Cage

One of the greatest attractions of murder mysteries are the conclusions. After a dramatic confrontation (usually in the library, surrounded by a group of suspects), the crook is bundled off to an undisclosed but hopefully sinister end. Lord Peter Wimsey observed that “in detective stories virtue is always triumphant. They’re the purest literature we have.” On the other hand, in spy stories, corruption and lying are often rampant on both sides, and stories end in a muddle of gray. James Bond is not paragon of justice.

This mix-up of the two genres worked for the first two episodes, but Sunflower comes dangerously close to compromising the entire premise of the show. In this episode, Foyle is tasked with a mission he finds very unpleasant: protecting a Nazi. Karl Strasser is making up for a dark history by feeding MI5 Soviet secrets, but he’s begun to receive death threats. Queue Foyle, the world’s worst bodyguard. His efforts on Strasser’s part seem only half-hearted.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Foyle's War - The Cage - Episode Review





If one is a detective, it’s a fairly certain occupational hazard that your privacy will be violated by a man—wounded in some manner—stumbling into your office, gasps out a cryptic phrase to the tune of “Purple Elephant!”, and falls dead.

“This man has been murdered, Holmes!”

It had to happen. Except, in this case, the man stumbles into a hospital, gasping out the phrase “Ten I!” Meanwhile, a woman gets a mysterious phone call, promptly disappearing and playing merry hell with operations at MI5.

Things are a bit less chaotic than episode one—Foyle is starting to settle into his new job (because, let’s face it, he has nothing to do in retirement but fish and drink scotch), Sam is finding her feet as Foyle’s secretary, and Adam has begun awkwardly campaigning in the dastardly world of politics. And how’s life at the work place? Horowitz has spun a world of lies, interdepartmental spying, and blackmail. Needless to say, Foyle doesn’t fit in. Though actually, he does a bit. Foyle isn’t above using a little misdirection, but it’s still his tenacity that gets him through.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Dean's Watch Review/Quotes

Sometimes you run into a book that has to be savored. The Dean's Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge, is such a book. I told my dad, on finishing it, that she must have been a person who deeply loved the beauty of creation. She loved it so much, that when she describes the world, you can feel the joy pulsing just beneath the skin of the words. Like all artists, the creation process is a deeply important part of her view of God, and is intrinsic to the theology of The Dean's Watch.

The setting is a remote mid-nineteenth-century town in England and its grand cathedral. The cathedral Dean, Adam Ayscough, holds a deep love for his parishioners and townspeople, but he is held captive by an irrational shyness and intimidating manner. The Dean and Isaac Peabody, an obscure watchmaker who does not think he or God have anything in common, strike up an unlikely friendship. This leads to an unusual spiritual awakening that touches the entire community.
Elizabeth Goudge's books are hard to find, but well worth the search. The book is, in essence, a small story, about small people, but is contrasted against the majestic looming symbol of the Cathedral which is the city which is faith itself. Goudge has great talent in taking the most unsavory characters and finding something likable - even lovable - about them, furthering the novel's primary theme: Christian charity, to love even the unlovely.

My only complaint about the book would be that it is slowly paced, and sometimes tedious. Pressed by work, I don't have the time to review more fully, but even better, I chose some of the choice quotes.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Foyle's War - The Eternity Ring - Episode Review

TV shows, after a few years, often slip into a well-worn groove. All the actors know their place, their character, and things move along with an enjoyable professionalism, albeit a slightly predictable one. Foyle’s War was axed in 2008, but in 2010 the show was, to use a hackneyed phrase, back by popular demand. In the previous finale, the detective had retired (again), and there is no war to be Foyle’s. There was no groove to be well-worn. In 2010, without the war, Foyle had lost his bearings. Sure, the reboot was unpredictable, but had lost its sense of place and was moving into dangerous territory with Foyle's background.

However, series 7 has returned Christopher Foyle to familiar ground: wartime corruption and intrigue. At the same time, the world is radically different. Episode 1 opens in the New Mexico desert with the test of an atomic bomb. This ain’t The Body in the Library. It’s the Cold War, and the stakes have been raised—the Soviets are the new enemy. Foyle is trapped into working for MI5 in a dilemma worthy of an Alex Rider novel (which would make sense, Mr. Horowitz.) Foyle is called upon to investigate a Russian defector and a possible band of spies: the Eternity Ring. Thus ensues a twisty espionage caper, probably a bit too complex, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Divergent and The Book Thief

I don't read much YA fiction anymore, but when I do...better not go down that path, I'm starting to sound like The Most Interesting Man in the World (who, it turns out, originated in a beer commercial. I really need to watch more TV to learn such important info.) For the last year, I've been discovering the classics, with great relish, but there are a few modern novels that have managed to stick out among such august company. Two of them are about to be released as movies.

The first of these, Divergent, I remember very little about, except for liking it quite a lot at the time. So, I won't vouch for its literary quality, but I do know it holds a higher standard of morality than most dystopian fiction, including The Hunger Games (if not a comparative level of originality.)


The other, The Book Thief, was very original, though I felt the ending lacked closure. I think I might like it better as a movie than a book, though I have an instinctive dislike of child actors (excepting Christian Bale, who shoots child acting into the stratosphere). I review it here.

Longish

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Miley Cyrus and the Victims of Pretty

 I never watched Hannah Montana, but like any teenage girl in America, I couldn't help but be aware of the teen phenomenon that was Miley Cyrus. I have a vague memory of something involving pop music and lots of pink. That was a long time ago. As the years passed, Cyrus has tried to shed her Disney image, but the new persona gained little attention until her sexually provocative performance at 2013 VMA awards. Since then, I've heard about little else. The internet is abuzz.

The reaction wasn't quite what Miley was looking for. Or perhaps it was. During the show, the camera showed reactions ranging from amused to indifferent to disgusted.

As for me, my reactions aren't quite as extreme. It was shocking, sure. But not surprising.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Benedict Cumberbatch's Message to the Media

Muslims protecting Coptic Christians in Egypt
I remember being pleasantly surprised by the actor's honesty when I read Martin Freeman's criticisms of multiculturalism and homosexuals. He reminded me of Mark Steyn's point that no multiculturalist could tell you the capital of Saudi Arabia, when he said: “In London we give ourselves a pat on the back, rightly, for not killing one another, for our prejudice being subtle rather than lethal. But nor are we waking up every morning saying, 'I can't wait to speak to my different X or Y neighbours about food or music.’”

Needless to say, for daring to criticize popular minorities, he was labeled a racist and a homophobe. Freeman's penchant for speaking his mind must have rubbed off on co-star Benedict Cumberbatch, who recently made headlines for sending the paparazzi a clear message:



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Les Miserables – When It’s Good, It’s Very, Very Good - Part 1


SO long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved...books like this cannot be useless.
~Preface to Les Miserables

Les Miserables is a somewhat daunting task. At 959 pages, it’s the longest book I’ve ever read, barring the Bible. (Fans affectionately call it The Brick.) Settling back after the tedious first few chapters, I prepared myself for a long haul. To my shock, I finished it in sixteen days. Honestly, I’m not sure how I did it, though I do know several days I put away a hundred pages.

Another part of the mystery is that Victor Hugo had a severe case of verbal diarrhea, so I did a bit of blah-blah-interesting bit!-blah-blah reading. If there was something to be said of a thing, good old Victor was bound to say it. Large chunks are devoted to the battle of Waterloo, the operation and ideological premise of monasteries, and 19th Century French politics—which have little to do with the story. If you have an encyclopedic knowledge of French history and politics in the 17-1800s, that’s terrific, but if you don’t, this can get tedious. Those are the two extremes: terrific and tedious.

Monday, August 5, 2013

C.S. Lewis on the Blindness of Our Age

We all know that person. They're obnoxious. They ooze arrogance. It's so blatant that their friends have begun to avoid them. But oddly, despite its glaring obviousness, they just can't see it. "What's everybody's problem?" they ask indignantly. We have a furious desire to shove their face to a mirror, screaming "Can't you see?"

In a recent conversation with my friend Elora Shore, we talked about the sins of particular eras. Some, racism in particular, we found hard to pardon. How could anyone be so blind to such an obvious fault? I paused. After all, why shouldn't the entire world, and all of history besides, think like me? I realized that that was precisely what I was thinking, and the arrogance and ethnocentricity of it surprised me. We went on to talk of other things, but the question stuck in the back of my head.

When 24th Century historians look at us, what will they find impossible to understand? With a paranoid conception of the future, I imagined invisible time travelers peering in my window and felt slightly panicky. Will they think I'm old-fashioned? Is it possible to find out now? How can we see ourselves without the skewed lens of what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery? I want to be ahead of my time.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Endeavour - Home - Episode Review


My review of last week's episode.

Professor Alistair Coke Norris’s death in a hit and run accident seems open and shut—but this is Morse. After some poking around, and informing the mild-mannered wife (Poppy Miller), it’s revealed that he to vote on a sale of college land that, predictably, involves some shady dealings. Also predictably, C.S. Bright is not happy about this turn of events. While at first amusingly Wodehousian, Bright is becoming more and more irritating and obstructive to Morse and Thursday. (By the way, this is getting a little wearing. Isn’t there anything else he does?)

But Bright’s political sycophancy becomes a real danger when one of Thursday’s old adversaries, Vic Kasper, turns up. From the moment the two set eyes on each other, it’s obvious they have A History. Following that revelation, this episode is more about Thursday than Morse (though perhaps it always has been.) Morse learns even more of his mentor’s old secrets. Somehow, though, these tidbits seem less interesting than the knowledge of Italian, war-time reminiscing, and dinner-table banter in earlier episodes.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Endeavour - Rocket - Episode Review





My review of last week's episode.

With appropriate timing, this week’s Endeavour features a visit from royalty. After last week’s episode, Rocket’s comparatively lighter tone is welcome.

The prospect of a visit to Oxford by Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, who is to unveil the British Imperial Electric Company's new "Standfast" Mark Two missile, has Chief Superintendent Bright, slated to provide security, on red alert. But when an unpopular worker is found murdered in a secluded area of the shop floor, Endeavour must pursue the truth -- and then justice -- from the sidelines…and in the intoxicating presence of Alice Vexin, an old acquaintance from his days at Oxford.

Featuring a plot involving factory owners, unions, and Middle Eastern businessmen, my political correctness detector was running on full spin. Perhaps it was unfair, but after the rampant PC in Lewis, I wanted to see how Endeavour measured up. And while it wasn’t as gutsy as good old very anachronistic Morse, neither did it descend to blatant caricaturing.  The factory is owned by the Broom family, a group composed of five vindictive individuals. There’s the mother, a domineering, spiteful but practical businesswoman. The daughter, Estella, similar to the cold, enigmatic character of the same name from Dickens’s Great Expectations. Two awkward brothers, another brother dead four years back, and a shifty father round off that happy family.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Never Say Die - Modernity and Morality - Part 2



Part 1

As a culture, we either avoid death or surrender to it—we are either blind optimists or self-centered pessimists. Speaking of death is often described as morbid. Speaking of it ceaselessly is either depression or being highly artistic, depending on one’s college degree. The optimists find themselves, in their last moments, scrabbling madly for a hold on life, staring at the wall in wide-eyed, hyperventilating terror. The pessimists go into a dark room and blow their brains out. What is the answer? What is the correct way to deal with death?

On one hand, there is no avoidance.

Death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.
Ecclesiastes 7:2, NIV

But…

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
1 Corinthians 15:55, KJV

Death is not there to be avoided, it’s there to be beaten—it has been beaten. Jesus took death down. Like a line-backer. This is the truest realism, not the despairing acceptance of meaninglessness. If it’s cowardice to avoid death, is it not cowardice to surrender to it? Is it not stupid to eschew all good things because of a hyped up idea that it’s sentimental? Isn’t that just intellectual dishonesty? Sure, it’s wrong to accept an idea because it makes you feel good, but isn’t it also wrong to reject an idea because it makes you feel good?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Free-Born Mind - Homeschooling and the Government

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike

Many years ago, my dad was standing behind a lady in the grocery store. She had several children, and was asked where they went to school. “We homeschool,” she said.

Dad did a double-take. What was this…home school? He mentally separated the two words. Some sort of private school? But no. She meant, literally, school at home. In our small out-of-the-way country town, it was the first time my dad had even heard of another option.

Many years later, I sit here, a homeschool graduate. Needless to say, we now look on homeschooling quite differently than my dad did twenty years ago. We’ve had to get over the occasional “So are you going to homeschool them all the way through high school?” asked with an incredulous expression. There’s the one family member who insists on quizzing me and my siblings on various subjects. We endure our state senator calling us “a threat to what it means to be an American.” Still, it’s not like we’re being acted against legally. 

For the Romeike family, it’s another matter. In 2008, the family fled their home country, Germany, and received asylum in the U.S., but the Administration has overturned that decision. The Huffington Post writes:

“In Germany there is basically religious freedom, but it ends at least with teaching the children,” Uwe Romeike says in a video produced by the Home School Legal Defense Association, the Christian organization providing the family’s legal support.
The Romeike case is unusual in a system backlogged with people trying to escape violence and persecution. The Romeikes are comparatively well off, and come from a country that hosts more than twice as many refugees as the U.S. 

 But because they home-schooled their five children (a sixth was born in Tennessee), they faced high fines and tension with local authorities. At one point, police forcibly corralled the oldest children into a van and delivered them to school.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Endeavour - Fugue - Episode Review


In a modern world abounding with death and moral ambiguity, there are few things we all agree are truly evil. I resist making a joke about the IRS. Seriously, some things are just bad. Pretty much everyone will place serial killers high on the Unquestionably Evil list. The fear of serial killers is more than just fear of death, it is fear of powerlessness, fear of a seemingly omnipotent, viciously evil force—killers are popularized to the point that they cease to seem like human beings.

Dealing with a serial killer villain is shaky territory. I’ve seen many TV shows capitalizing on this paranoia by diving deep into the psyche of the murderer, and showing little goodness to offset it. On the other hand, shows like Dexter trivialize the horror and subvert the clear demarcation of good and evil. 

Modeled on the Inspector Morse episode Masonic Mysteries (a bone-chiller starring Emperor Palpatine), the latest installment of Endeavour is some pretty terrific television, reminding me of the slick perfection of Sherlock. It neither blurs the moral lines, nor grants the villain super powers, accomplishing both these things without sacrificing suspense.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Endeavour - Girl - Episode Review

Shaun Evans and Roger Allam in Endeavour
Most of the time, sequels are a bad idea. Prequels are even worse. At best, they signal somebody’s desperate for new material, at worst, they're a money grab. However, the BBC’s new show Endeavour is a shining exception.

Long-running detective show Inspector Morse, starring John Thaw, ran from 1987 to 2000. Immensely popular in its day, millions followed the escapades of curmudgeonly, intellectual, melancholy Morse. Last year, for the 25th Anniversary, a terrific TV movie, Endeavour, was produced. It seems I wasn’t the only one struck by the wonderful quality, because it’s returned for a series. (This is the second spin-off - the other: Inspector Lewis, starring Thaw’s sidekick Kevin Whately, started in 2007, and ended last month. Update: nope.)

This is that series.

I should add that even if you haven’t seen an episode of Morse, it’s easy to follow and stands on its own. It relies a lot on the mythos surrounding Colin Dexter's detective, but so much is new that it's really a spin-off. There is an independent cast that doesn't require any introduction.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Never Say Die - Modernity and Morality - Part 1


Jeeves and Wooster
“Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie shouldn’t age,” says my Dad, leaning against the kitchen counter. “Seeing them get old…it just doesn’t…it’s weird.”

Back in the ’90s, the two British actors co-starred in Jeeves and Wooster. Fry and Laurie played, respectively, the unflappable, omniscient valet, Jeeves, and his dimwitted, talkative employer, Bertrum Wilberforce Wooster. The stories are set in an idyllic pre-war atmosphere, where the greatest ill that can befall a man is ridiculous romantic dilemmas or bogus get-rich-quick schemes. Let’s be honest, it’s pure escapism—albeit escapism with lively wit, brilliant plotting, and hilarious (if somewhat one-dimensional) characters. No one ages and, of course, no one dies.

That’s why it’s so weird to see old Fry and Laurie. I had a similar reaction to seeing Anthony Valentine in a modern movie. I’d had a crush on him in the 1975 TV show Raffles…and suddenly, he was in his seventies. He's old enough to be my grandfather.

Why this violent reaction, this jerking back from reality?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bill Whittle on The Lord of the Rings

It's been sixteen days since I've posted - about the longest interval in my year of blogging. In the face of this deplorable neglect, I started to get desperate. Thus, I'm pulling out one of my emergency blog subjects: The Lord of the Rings.

Bill Whittle is one of my favorite political commentators. He works for PJTV.com, and is involved in three internet TV shows - hosting Afterburner and The Firewall and co-hosting Trifecta with Stephen Green and Scott Ott. He consistently turns out classy, intellectual commentary on current events. He'd mentioned Tolkien several times, so I was curious as to what the story was.

His take on it, somewhat predictably, involves politics. I don't entirely agree with him, but it's certainly a credible and important interpretation.

The relevant section is from 39:00 to 48:50.

Enjoy:


Longish

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Looking Back - Logos Bible Study

My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday. 
~G.K. Chesterton

In this forward-looking, progressive age, very little attention is paid to the past. Even among Christians, the attitude persists. In general, we prefer the New Testament to the Old. "Well, it's the old covenant. It's all been superseded. Sure, the Ten Commandments, but not all that other stuff. Just a lot of killing and kings and judgment."

Myself, I've always enjoyed the Old Testament, but sometimes, we all need a little help. Of course it isn't necessary to know historical context, geography, languages, culture, but those things flesh out the story and can give a whole new spin on well-known tales.

Did you know the Witch of Endor was a ventriloquist? Did you know Jonah was resurrected from the whale? Did you know that Jephthah didn't kill his daughter? Do you know who Jephthah was?

Is all that true? It could be. I'll bet it never came up in Sunday School. In dozens of podcasts, Dr. Bill Creasy examines the Bible from a unique perspective. As a marine he has knowledge about military maneuvers, he was stationed in Israel, he knows the languages, he knows the land, he knows the culture, he's got a sense of humor. Logos Bible Study really is the "most comprehensive, in-depth Bible study program on the planet." Dr. Creasy really knows how to make it all come to life - the New Testament as well. Are some of his more unusual claims right? I don't know. But he takes Paul's "test everything" seriously. God means us to use our imagination.

Check it out here. You can thank me later.



Longish

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Splintered White - Magic in The Lord of the Rings

A knock-down, drag-out wizard fight which Did Not Happen In The Book
I've had several conversations over the years about magic in the use of fiction. Ever since the advent of Harry Potter, it's been a hot topic among evangelicals. Opinions tend to be on one or the other extreme. Either no magic whatsoever, or bring on the broomsticks. Over the last year or so, I've read much thoughtful commentary on the matter. The examinations include many, many different novels. But again, most of my thoughts return to magic in my favorite: The Lord of the Rings.

More than any other, this story permeated my childhood. Among the things I learned from it were humility, faith, courage, perseverance, friendship, and joy. As anyone who knows the stories will say, the magic is never more than a narrative device. One could (almost) read through the book and not remember any instance of overt magic. There's no question that the central essence is story-related - the characters, the conflict, the resolution.

For many, though, this isn't enough. I respect that. I really do. The Bible explicitly forbids dabbling in black arts, or white arts for that matter. But at the same time, I recognize that stories are a special case. They are in the realm of the imagination, which ranges far beyond reality. In some cases, the same rules do not apply. Yet, as Professor Tolkien (a devout Catholic) himself believed, we may invent any sort of creatures we wish, but to call good evil, and evil good, is a sin. Then, must we completely discard anything that mentions magic? If your conscience forbids any mention of magic whatsoever, by all means, listen to it. But mine does not, and I feel the need to defend my point of view. All the same, I like to know what sort of "magic" we're talking about.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Iron Man 3 - Tony Stark in the Real World




I have a confession: any movie with Robert Downey Jr. playing an iconic kick-butt sarcastic hero I’m bound to like. Taking that into account, I was probably predisposed to like Iron Man 3, his latest outing. Well, I did. In fact, on leaving the theater, I was convinced it was better than last year’s worldwide blockbuster The Avengers. Wait. Don’t panic. Since then, my critical faculties have snapped back into commission. While inevitably doing well in the box office, the general consensus is that Iron Man 3 is a weak when compared to Avengers. And as I realized on reflection, the general consensus is right.

There are a number of problems. Plot holes. A lack of conflict, or real obstacles. Political correctness. Tony Stark is never actually the Rescuer, but the Rescued (thus, he’s not really the Hero). At one point there’s an interesting dilemma put to Iron Man, but, predictably enough, he doesn’t have to choose between the two options, because he can do both! No consequences, no risk—no risk, no drama—no drama, no interest—no interest, no satisfaction. It’s all too easy.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Citizens and Matthew Perryman Jones

In the absence of a new post, I thought I'd share a few neat videos I've seen recently.

These two are about the coolest music vids I've seen. The first is by a band I just discovered - Citizens. They're the worship team for Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church. To be so simple, it's very dramatic.


This second is from one of my favorite albums of 2012, Matthew Perryman Jones's Land of the Living. Like most of the songs on the record, it's hard to say whether I've deciphered the meaning correctly or not, but with this one, I suspect my hunch is correct. Not to ruin it, but I hint that baptism and sin are major themes.

Enjoy,
Longish

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Anglophilia and A Severe Mercy



 

“So surrender the hunger to say you must know,
Have the courage to say ‘I believe,’
For the power of paradox opens your eyes,
And blinds those who say they can see.”
-Michael Card “God’s Own Fool”

I’m part of a group of American Evangelicals that I think of as The Anglophiles. They often homeschool. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved British stuff. I grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster, and Joan Hickson as (the only) Miss Marple. Mr. Darcy was upheld as the ideal of all manhood.

My dad read me The Chronicles of Narnia, followed by The Hobbit, followed by that fiction above all other fiction, The Lord of the Rings. Charles Dickens, Terry Pratchett, and G.K. Chesterton number themselves among my favorite authors (lucky sods). I practice my Oxford English, Irish, Scottish, Cockney, and Geordie accents whenever I read aloud to my younger siblings. Just about the only thing I dislike is British music; I loathe the Beatles. But I eagerly devour British-inspired music.

When I started reading Sheldon “Van” Vanauken’s memoir A Severe Mercy, I was immediately swept into his familiar love. Like me, Van grew up immersed in British Lit., even though his childhood spanned the 1920s, and not the 2000s. He read Sherlock Holmes and Treasure Island – “As a child England had seemed much nearer than New York or the cowboy west.” When he finally went up to Oxford, he said it “was like coming home, coming to a home half-remembered – but home.” (EX-actly, I thought).

Van was one of the early Anglophiles, just like me. He was also an incorrigible romantic, a lover of beauty and goodness and all that is fair. He had the extraordinary luck to step into Oxford while the Inklings still lived. He and his wife, Davy, became good friends with C.S. Lewis, read Charles Williams, Dorothy L. Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton, and were converted to Christianity. They entertained dozens of deep thinkers at their little apartment in downtown Oxford.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Weight of Glory - CD Review




When I saw a free CD on Noisetrade entitled The Weight of Glory, I knew exactly what that referenced. I’d never even heard of Heath McNease, but no questions asked, ten minutes later, I had his CD. Why? Each song is based on a different C.S. Lewis book.

C.S. Lewis is probably the most influential Christian scholar of the 20th Century. He’s widely embraced, even among Mormons, due to the fact that he tried to stay neutral on what Paul called “disputable matters.” Another reason for his popularity is his form of writing, which is very clear and concise. Lewis was an expert at explaining theology to laymen. He was the number two most-recognized-voice on the radio during the Blitz, right after Winston Churchill.

Besides being a great way to catch Christians’ attention, basing an album on Lewis is also a wonderful idea. In the way of sound, this album is all over the place, swinging from pop to folk rock to rap to a sort of smooth spacey sound. The Great Divorce is a master of catchiness—I still love it. A Grief Observed, after months of listening, still makes me cry. The Screwtape Letters is convicting and dark.

My brother, who never endorses a song, has actually admitted he likes the Problem of Pain, and I sometimes hear him whistling the chorus in the shower (for my brother, that’s a big deal). If you enjoy rap, there’s Mere Christianity. The Four Loves, examines the different phases of life—boyhood, college, adulthood—and connects them to the different loves in the book. Edmund examines the connection between the second Pevensie brother and Judas.

While the songs are at their best when the source material is familiar, it’s by no means necessary—they can stand on their own, and they do. It does, however, suffer from repetitiveness. Surprised by Joy is not very surprising. Still, overall, a very fun album—entirely worth the download.

Longish

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Brideshead Revisited Quotes

I really don't have time to review every book I read, but I couldn't resist sharing some of the tidbits I discovered...I also admit, that part of the reason I didn't want to review this was because I don't think I'm quite up to the task.

Brideshead Revisited:

Charles Ryder's description of his worldview:

The view implicit in my education was that the basic narrative of Christianity had long been exposed as a myth, and that opinion was now divided as to whether its ethical teaching was of present value, a division in which the main weight went against it; religion was a hobby which some people professed and others did not; at the best it was slightly ornamental, at the worst it was the province of "complexes" and "inhibitions" - catchwords of the decade - and of the intolerance, hypocrisy, and sheer stupidity attributed it for centuries. No one had ever suggested to me that these quaint observances expressed a coherent philosophic system and intransigent historical claims; nor, had they done so, would I have been much interested.

Interesting that things have changed so little. I might mention that this phrase only occurs in older editions, it was replaced with a different perspective in the 1960 version.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Lost Art of Lament - Boston, Texas, and Gosnell


The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters
Torn apart
 
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

How long...
How long must we sing this song?
How long, how long... 


We all know what it feels like to be homesick. The many months in a foreign land, the unfamiliar sounds of a different country. After the hours on the road, you drag yourself indoors, ready for the weariness and discomfort to cease, ready to embrace that unconditional lover: the couch. 

But sometimes, there are problems that have no solution. Ever had a dream in your head? Perfect and untouched, the idea for a poem, or a book, or a piece of art? But when you take up the pen, the words cannot describe it. You know exactly what you’re talking about, but everything you try feels wrong, a futile attempt to describe a greater truth. You throw language at an object, but nothing captures the essence of it. The painting is just a scrawled crayon glimpse of an uncapturable vision. Sometimes, we feel a hunger that nothing satisfies.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Father Brown - Style and Sunny Skies, But No Substance


[Note: this concerns series 1 - I'm halfway through series 3 at the moment, and my impressions are somewhat different.

I’ve long been excited about the new Father Brown adaptation. I read several volumes of short stories featuring G.K. Chesterton’s clerical sleuth last summer, and enjoyed them immensely. In typical fashion, Chesterton used them to tote his own views, but included a fascinating howdunnit mystery, often hinging on paradox. The quirky, child-like character of Father Brown, the humorous philosophical discussions, the hilarious Chestertonian one-liners, and the gorgeous, glorious descriptions easily set the stories among the classic mysteries.

The old series with Kenneth More was quite good, but suffered from being made in the 1970s. The writing, mostly lifted directly from Chesterton, was witty and well-delivered, and elevated it beyond most shows of its time.

n Mark Williams as Father Brown, with Nancy Carroll as Lady Felicia, Sorcha Cusack as Mrs McCarthy, Hugo Speer as Inspector Valentine, Kasia Koleczek as Susie and Alex Price as Sid
Lady Felicia, Mrs. McCarthy, Brown, Valentine, Suzie, Sid
Unfortunately, the new adaptation bears little relation to its source material. It starts off sticking to the original plot, but things quickly spin into embellishment. Father Brown (Mark Williams) has lost his air of whimsical befuddlement and dithering curiosity, and appears altogether too keen-minded (which, in the books, he only became during the final unveiling). He’s been turned into a much more wise, sagely, liberal Cadfael-esque figure. 

Another thing: Father Brown’s figure was always described as rather roly-poly. Williams is too tall to pull that off, but he does occasionally get in the childishness. Yet it's only very occasionally. Some joys are granted by the supporting cast: Sorcha Cusack is hilarious as the neighborhood busybody, and Hugo Speer makes a convincing and relatable Inspector Valentine, considering its never easy playing the Lestrade/Japp figure. Nancy Carroll's Lady Felicia is there for seemingly no reason. Kasia Koleczek as Susie, Father Brown’s Polish housekeeper, serves to advance the plot at times, but her boyfriend Sid (Alex Price) is truly interesting, being a some-time petty thief.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Christian Contemporary Music - My Campaign


Christian Radio42

Music's only purpose should be the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.
~J.S. Bach

Many of the Christians I know (and certainly all the atheists) hold the genre of Christian Contemporary Music in contempt. I don't mean that they actively hate it (though some do), but they certainly label it as lame, amateur, or feel-good clap-trap. Unfortunately, the majority of the stuff you'll hear on CCM radio stations is just that: Fluff. Mass-produced and very popular Fluff, but still Fluff. Only a few artists rise from the masses to actually deliver a profound and good song. Even then, it probably only made it to the radio for the sake of its catchy tune. Don't get me wrong - there can be good songs on the radio, but it has to be in a certain format. And it's a format that doesn't allow for much wiggling space. At most, you'll get that one good song.

But there's a big However. There are scads and scads of Christian musicians that never make it to CCM radio stations. Among the group I call the Fringe Artists lies a reservoir of rich talent seldom credited to the Christian musician. There's truly a little of something for everyone: pop, acoustic and electric rock, folksy-artistic-groovy, instrumental, plumb-good stuff, laments, rap (both lighter and heavier), heavy metal, southern rock, country, punkrock in home-made spaceships, songs about Dutch artistsPeter Pan (with C.S. Lewis references), bio-ethicsliving rooms, Aslan, and The Grey Havens. There are more music genres than I've even heard of. Let's contrast some Fluff with some Fringe.