Friday, November 30, 2007

"Defining" Movies of the 2000s

I've been keeping an eye on The Search for awhile, and have linked a couple great culture posts, but now gomezeec has gone and written two in a row that deserve attention. First, he attempts to list the 20 "defining" movies of the '00s so far, and does an interesting, eclectic job. Here are some of his choices that I especially approve:

Lost in Translation (2003) - superbly acted existential drama starring Bill Murray in a serious role.
Children of Men (2006) - the film adaptation of P.D. James' dystopia is life-affirming and brilliantly filmed.
Garden State (2004) - the essential "coming of age" (searching for meaning) film for the current generation, and it features a great soundtrack.

And here are some movies I think should've been present:
Napoleon Dynamite (2004) - small-town eccentricity frames a choppy, quirky search for significance that resonated with a lot of people.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - ultimately, you could say this is a romance film, but with the help of a great script, Jim Carey and Kate Winslet, it takes a swing at the first order question, "Who am I?" (And how do our mistakes define us?)
Adaptation (2002) - Nicolas Cage plays himself and his brother (!) in this innovative, unsettling film that explores the way life and meaning emerge from death and disaster.

What movies do you think should be included? This is a topic that's almost wide open, given that the '00s are home to a bunch of "postmodern" movies that you either love or hate...we're a bunch of postmoderns evaluating postmodern films, so the possibilities for murkiness, nuance and disagreement are endless. :)

And now I've gone and talked about the first post so much that I'll have to merely mention the second one, an excellent review and commentary on the new Bob Dylan movie, I'm Not There. I'm already a Dylan fan, but now I'm even more interested in the film.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Golden Compass: Almost Christian

Philip Pullman wants to kill God. (It's already been tried.) And he says that C.S. Lewis' books are "reactionary and dishonest." (Sour grapes?) But for all that, I think his books are worth reading and the upcoming screen adaption of the first book in his trilogy, The Golden Compass, will be an intriguing film.

Here's a great article which explains why I'm being so generous to a C.S. Lewis hater. Read it. Then grab the book, and watch the movie when it comes out in December... It won't be as good as Narnia, but the story may be glorious on the big screen.

Pullman ends up pointing back to God in spite of himself.

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"Would you mind holding me up straight?"

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God Loves You & Has Multiple Plans for Your Life

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm the only one who find the proverbial "plan" God has for my life to be very limiting, not to mention elusive and darn hard to even identify. Am I? If so, read no further. This post is the product of a fevered brain and should be dismissed with a sympathetic grin. However...

If God has such a wonderful PLAN (singular, all caps), how come we spend so much time trying to figure out exactly what it is?

Fact is, God doesn't have just one plan for any of us, unless it's "Glorifying him by enjoying him forever" or "living out a kingdom reality." You get my drift. If any of us want to identify just one divine plan for our lives, it had better be a wide-angle, big-picture scheme. Anything less is a crude oversimplification of God's resourcefulness and sovereignty--and personally very frustrating, to boot.

In reality, God loves you and has multiple plans for your life, many of which you won't fully see until you move further into this life or beyond it entirely. He dabbles in a lot of fields, has his finger in a lot of pies. (He's a Jack of all trades, Master of 'em all and then some.) That "one plan" which we're supposed to discover, distill in a purpose statement, and tape to our refrigerator, is pretty much an urban-Christian legend. Jesus is doing multiple things in our lives at once, multiple crucial things.

Sure, God has specific purposes for our lives, and there's no doubt that some of them are more important than others. However, his wisdom is deep enough that he subversively uses all the circumstances of our lives to shape us and accomplish his purposes. The storylines we are aware of are not the only ones in play, and chances are, they are not the most important ones either.

"Your ways are not my ways," says God. "And if you doubt me, check out the stories of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Jesus...actually, just read the entire Book. When my protagonists actually know what I'm up to, it's the rare exception. And even rarer is when my plans cause pure bliss, certainty, and pleasure in the lives of those I love. You see, what you think you need, isn't. Not in light of eternity. Fortunately, I know the difference."

So, breathe more deeply. Relax, and stop scanning the horizon like it's an Excel spreadsheet. God's plans are not that linear, not that predictable, and definitely not that boring.

God has many purposes for your life, all of them being worked out, some hidden, some suspected--and all of them because he loves you.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Jayhawks Play Tonight

Or the "sea cocks," as Aidan calls 'em. And Lindsay and I will be there!

We scored last-minute tickets from Lindsay's dad's boss, so in an hour we'll be en route to the mecca of college hoops. Maybe this will provoke another Phog Blog post.

True, the Jayhawks are playing Florida Atlantic--not exactly a high caliber opponent--but there's always a storyline. Maybe this is the game that Darrell Arthur learns to rebound or Sasha Kaun stops frantically throwing point blank shots off the back board.

Whatever happens, it's always cool to watch a Final Four team up close and personal.

My call:

KU 101
FL-AT 63

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The Most Fulfilling Situation in Substitute Teaching

I stand by the desk, collecting my things. Students enter the classroom, wander toward their seats.

"Hey Mr. V!"
"Hey, what's going on."
"Are you teaching us today?"
"Nope, I'm headed out."
"I'm sure you'll have a great class, though."

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blue Chair Meets Green Bag

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Advertising Concepts & Scripts--w/ Verve

I'm kind of excited about this.

A few months ago, Mettler Athletic asked me to submit several ad concepts for a TV spot that would air locally in Champaign, IL, where they're located. I did. Now one of those commercials has been produced and you can watch it here (30 seconds, so it's short and sweet).

Writing the advertising concepts was a fun step forward for my young Words w/ Verve company...writing a bare bones idea for a television commercial and then seeing it brought to life adds an adrenalin rush to the copywriting task. I hope to do more of this in the future.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Aidan's Music Picks for Fall/Winter 2007

Aidan owns a constantly-growing ball collection (47 and 1/2 last time we counted), likes to wrestle, and is quick on his feet, but he has a softer side as well. He loves music, picks out his favorite instruments (guitar, drums and piano), and requests his current hit songs several times a day. Here are his picks for Fall/Winter '07.

1. "Intuition," by Feist, from The Reminder. This song was an instant favorite, essentially because of a reprise at the end where Feist sings, "Did I? Did I?" repeatedly--in a pretty, lilting way. Aidan began singing along immediately (I'm serious--he was helping me assemble a book shelf at the time, so I remember quite clearly)--except his enunciation isn't so good, so he sings, "Dee-da, dee-da." In Aidan's lexicon, this is "the dee-da song."

2. "Brotherhood of Man," by The Innocence Mission, from We Walked in Song. This one became a preferred pick after Asher was born. Always eager to brag on his status as "big brother," Aidan loves this song for the nice melody and automatic ego boast. He calls it the "brother song."

3. "All My Tears," by Jars of Clay, from Good Monsters. Aidan is a good dancer, so the edgy guitar riffs on this song really grabbed him. However, the vocals at the very end sealed the deal. Dan Haseltine gets some backing for a wordless final reprise that is bittersweet and haunting. (Like his dad, Aidan is kind of a sucker for this stuff.)

4. "Jesusland," by Ben Folds, from Songs for Silverman. Ben Folds is an everyman type of guy, and he manages to pull off really pretty piano melodies without seeming like a wuss. That predisposed Aidan to like him. But the soaring backing vocals (again, Aidan likes sweet melodies) and interesting spiritual content make this particular song a repeat favorite.

5. Hickory Dickory Dock, by Lindsay, from Songs Lindsay Sings to Aidan. Uh, this one isn't available to the general public yet.

If you have a minute to listen to any of these songs, Aidan is interested in your thoughts. Do you like them? How do you identify them when needed? Do you sing along?

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Sleep, Who Needs It

In earth's economy, sleep is something we desperately fight for. Rest is a narrow strip of beach we fortify with sand castles against the ocean's fitful attack. Each time the tide goes out, angst and ennui litter the shore line. (Some people find this wreckage interesting and collect it to use in craft projects, several of which have been published as books and become famous.)

Or am I just saying this because we have two boys under two years old? Good question, but a strange thing has happened to me--I no longer have any special affection for sleep. "Sleeping until noon" has lost its old appeal. Maybe it's because my back is a seismograph, logging the slightest deviations from a precisely supine position. Maybe it's because I'd rather be reading. Maybe it's because my mind becomes fully awake at around 8 p.m. Maybe it's because I'm more enlightened than the rest of you snoring suckers--or maybe I'm trying to trick myself into not wanting what I can't have anyway (we all do it). Whatever.

Here's the redeeming note in what would otherwise be a kind of melancholy post: God doesn't need sleep. Doesn't find himself wishing the kids would stop screaming or the Holy Spirit would finally start pulling his weight so He could grab a power nap.

No, God is sleepless and happy. Maybe it's no coincidence. I think sleep is something God graciously shoved off on us after Adam and Eve's living nightmare, to temporarily delay our bodies' decay. That means sleep is medicinal. Sleep is a tranquilizer for death.

It was kind of God to do this, and explains why sleepless people go insane and then die--they're missing out on their daily meds.

What comforts me, though, is that sleep, unlike a jumpshot or espresso-pulling jones, is not something we need to practice, thinking it will be useful in eternity. As if. Some of you are shocked right now--WHAT? There will be no snoozing area in heaven, stocked with four-posters and arm chairs? NOOOO!--but I am unfazed, happy in fact. Those of you who are devoted sleepers, who could compete in the Olympics of Inactivity, will have to reinvent yourselves. Not me. In Heaven, wakeful will be normal, with or without coffee.

For now, sleep is nice, when you can get it, but God is sleepless and happy. On even my worst days, I have got half of that DOWN. So when I don't get much shuteye, I remind myself that eventually I won't need it anyway.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Big 12 / Pac 10 Hardwood Challenge Begins...

...and the score is:

Big 12: 1
Pac 10: 0

We just watched the Jayhawks survive their first real test of the season against a good Arizona team at Allen Field House. After going up by 12 early in the first half, KU got careless and let AZ back in it.

Wildcat stars Chase Budinger and Jerryd Bayless ensured the game stayed close until Mario Chalmers became Mr. Clutch and scored 8 in a row to force overtime. In the extra minutes, KU rediscovered their poise and took control, executing their offense smoothly and hurting the Wildcats with explosive dunks.

Brandon Rush was a big factor in the game, logging 36 minutes. He looked a little slow while shadowing Budinger, but is clearly on the way back to top form.

Here are the upcoming Big 12 / Pac 10 games. Oregon at K-State, Oklahoma at USC, and Texas at UCLA are matchups I'll keep an eye on:

November 29, 2007
Oregon at Kansas State
Oklahoma at USC

Fri., Nov. 30, 2007
Washington State at Baylor
Iowa State at Oregon State

December 1
Washington at Oklahoma State
Missouri at California

December 2
Arizona State at Nebraska
Stanford at Colorado
Texas at UCLA
Texas A&M at Arizona

December 22
Stanford vs. Texas Tech (Sat., Dec. 22)

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Birthday Book Stack & Burr Grinder

kitchenaid burr grinder
It's kind of a tradition around here for me to post pictures of books after significant moments of book acquisition, like birthdays and Christmas or the beginning of a new semester. This last birthday wasn't a huge one for books, so I was debating whether to chronicle it...but after some deliberation, I decided to go ahead.

The books I did get were significant--and the lack of a tall stack was more than atoned for by another item that will have a very, very significant impact on the life of this blog. Yeah, I know, the books and the burr grinder in the photo are not technically "stacked"--but let's not get hung up on minor details. I recruited Aidan to help showcase these notable new arrivals. Here's the breakdown, from left to right.

Based on internet research, secret, taped conversations between seminary professors, name-dropping preachers, and highly-regarded book lists, I've gained the impression that Douglas Moo's Epistle to the Romans is the foremost commentary on this wonderfully dense New Testament book. That, and I like utilizing his name.

"What are you reading?"

I was fortunate enough to hear Ajith Fernando speak at a conference couple of years ago, and was deeply impressed by his mind and spirit. A brilliant scholar and communicator, Fernando calls Sri Lanka home; he's lived through civil war and is nevertheless one of the most joyful, energetic people I've ever encountered. His thoughts are sticky, both inspired and understandable--I've revisited my notes from the talks I heard him give, and will do so again. I own several of his other books, and covetously leafed through his Application Commentary on Acts several times, knowing that one day it would have to be mine. Now it is.

Lemony Snickett. The first three books. From Lindsay. I've always loved stories that feed my imagination with adventure and humor, and since I started seminary, this preference has become a survival strategy. I kid you not. From what I've heard, the Lemony Snickett series will help me to complete my degree without completely ruining what's left of my personality. From the back cover: "I'm sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children...It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing." Nice.

And finally, the Big Deal. After I discovered CoffeeGeek several months ago, I realized that my coffee routine was seriously compromised. For years, I'd used a push-button blade grinder for my gourmet beans, which is like using a dull axe to harvest living organs from a donor. Exactly like that. Blade grinders crush and mangle beans into uneven fragments, losing a lot of the taste in the process. Burr grinders, on the other hand, are precisely calibrated machines that slice beans instead of crushing them. They preserve the coffee's flavors and oils, resulting in a better-tasting cup.

Obviously, I started losing sleep over this right away, even more than usual. So I started reading reviews, and got pretty excited when I learned that KitchenAid's pro line grinder had performed really well for Mark Prince of CoffeeGeek, and did not cost as much as a used Honda. Nevertheless, I was still really surprised when Lindsay's parents gave me one for my birthday. It was a stroke of brilliant generosity. Surprise gave way to elation as I brought it home, unboxed it, and installed it on our counter.

Beautiful. Solid. Delicious. Weighs a good fifteen pounds. Grinds beans for drip coffee, French press, or espresso. My coffee tastes brighter and cleaner, with additional nuances. Now I can detect those "undertones" and "bouquets" listed on the packaging. I took the grinder apart a couple days ago and cleaned it, just for fun...

So there you have it. There's something about listing out birthday presents that makes me enjoy them even more.

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Half & Half

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Aidan Enters Society

His Aunt Sarah has made quite an impression, maybe because of all the time she's spent crawling around roaring at him.

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Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (Book Review)

Owen Doesn't Dance, but He Leaves Deep Footprints

Every so often, I like to read books that are several hundred years old, and then talk about them. It gives me a feeling of increased weight and relevance to be able to cite these authors, especially when they agree with me. Look, Aristotle, Augustine, and Edwards all back me on this. Don't you get it?--the wisdom of the ages is in my corner.

Actually, the moments when this happen are pretty rare. This is because, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, old books serve as a corrective to whatever obsessions are currently in vogue. They tend to destroy our fads and biases, not affirm them. They provide an outside perspective that we can never get from John Eldredge, Dan Kimball or Mark Driscoll.

Communion with the Triune God is definitely an old book. John Owen lived and died in the 17th century, and Communion was first published in 1657. Owen will never be widely cited in the 21st century, because his writing is dense and sometimes redundant--but his message is not any the less needed for that. In fact, I hold it against my seminary that I was not forced to read Owen in any of my classes.

Communion combines strong trinitarian theology with a deep concern for authentic spirituality. This may not sound very impressive, but it's rare. Have you ever heard someone ask the question, How should we interact with and experience EACH MEMBER of the trinity? In my experience, writers tend to emphasize either theology or spirituality, as if biblical truths about God belong in a different neighborhood from Jesus-like living. Owen knows they share a zip code.

His thinking is rigorous, brilliant, and, yes, rather elephantine. But Owen's paragraphs are worth the time it takes to decipher them. A couple examples.

Owen: [Jesus] has spoken [his love] as particularly to you as to anyone in the world. And for cause of love, he has as much to fix it on you as on any of the children of men; that is, none at all without himself.

Translation: You think God "can't" love you? Don't sweat it, God has no good reason to love anyone. No reason at all--except his grace.

Owen: God has so fully, so eminently revealed his love, that it may be received by faith. "You believe in God" (John 14:1); that is, the Father. And what do you believe in him? His love; for he is "love" (1 John 4:8).

Translation: Do you believe in the love of God? The Father's love--for the world, for the church, for you--is the central reality that faith affirms. If you "believe in God" but not in his love for you, your faith is empty.

Communion with the Triune God is not a book you can read quickly, but then, fast reads seldom really change us. Grab a pencil and open it with patience, because John Owen is tough on the mind but very good for the soul.

Highly recommended, A.

Of course it's there; we need more 300-year-old books on the Master Book List.

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Can Brian McLaren Move Product?

Today at the Mission points out that he's certainly trying. In light of McLaren's stated aims in Everything Must Change, I'm not sure this makes sense.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Coffee God? Yes I Am

Every once in awhile, the search term someone uses to reach this blog is too good not to share. (If you're wondering, I'm still ranked very high for "that pompous fool.") But today's Google tag is a little more flattering--and brings an even higher ranking--number one!

It's hard to see how I'll be able to improve on this one.

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The Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling (Review)

Flash Review: There's a Reason I Read All the Harry Potter Books in a Month

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and one of the things I was thankful for was Harry Potter. More specifically, the fact that around 1 a.m. Thanksgiving morning (don't worry, I was up anyway), I finished the final book in J.K. Rowling's series so that my month-long Potter reading binge could come to an end.

I have this contrarian streak in me that causes me to defy the establishment in deeply meaningful ways, such as not reading books about Harry Potter while everyone else is wearing capes and standing in line to buy the latest installment at Barnes & Noble. I'm such a rebel. But once the hoopla died down a little, once J.K. Rowling cut her movie deals and established herself as a multimillionaire, and once people stopped swooning when Harry Potter was mentioned, I was ready to read the famous books.

I won't actually review the Potter books--there are seven, and their continuity in style and content makes it feasible to review 'em all at once--because everyone else has. Well, I won't review them in any strict sense anyway, because they deserve more than what I am about to say. Let's just call these comments a flash review and move on.
If I were going to, say, list the Potter books on the Master Book List, my commentary would be very positive.

I'd mention the way Rowling makes you care deeply about her characters, the pacing that makes reading the Harry Potter books a compulsive experience, and the tricky, two-faced plot lines. Also, the fact that Rowling's idea of redemption is more Christian than Wiccan. I'd also mention the fact that by the final book, I was able to stay one step ahead of the story most of the time, anticipating some of the big surprises. The trick is to ask yourself, "If this was a movie, what would happen next?" What can I say, I learned from the first six books...

Disappointments? That Harry never shoots spells to kill, even when he obviously should, so the same villains keep reappearing and killing more good guys. Is there supposed to be a positive lesson in this? Also, there were several characters who failed to live up to their "powerful" billings, succumbing to enemies too easily. But these are minor gripes.

Ultimately, Rowling creates a world you wish really existed, peopling it with complex characters and mythical creatures that capture the imagination and the affections. If I was, in fact, reviewing these books, I'd give J.K. Rowling high marks for what she does best: tell stories. And, well, what the heck: I award the Harry Potter books a strong A--highly recommended for lovers of fantasy, adventure, and good writing.

Not sure if you're ready to embark on the Potter odyssey? Wonder no longer. Pick up The Sorceror's Stone. (It's quick and painless.) After you've finished that first book, probably less than 24 hours later, ask yourself if you want to continue.

And, yeah, I broke down and put Harry Potter on the Master Book List.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

I am thankful for...

...Lindsay, the fact that she is much more gracious than I am, is God-like in her ability to create amazing, spicy food ex nihilo, likes to read and discuss books, is very good looking, and actually lives with me. What a woman. What a babe. What a wife.

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I am thankful for...

...Aidan, his fanatical love for the Jayhawks, his habit of accosting strangers to ask if they have any chocolate or marshmallows, and the fact that he can already beat his mom at Boggle.

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I am thankful for...

...Asher, the fact that he already likes espresso, and that he is growing like crazy, obviously gunning for the small forward position on our family basketball team.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Promise-Keeping God (Audio)

Something amazing has taken place.

For the first time ever, a message I preached is available on the internet. Linking this right before Thanksgiving is fitting in a couple ways. One, the theme inspired thankfulness when I preached it: Promise-Keeping God. Two, I'm thankful that this message was converted from two cassette tapes (!) into MP3 format and posted online. Didn't know that was possible, did you?

The full title was Promise-Keeping God Seeks Idol-Mongering People. A little retro, but I explain "mongering" in the intro. Excited yet? This dates back to July 1--so if you think this message is lacking, just remember that I was younger then.

You can download the MP3 for your player by right-clicking and saving the file (at the very bottom of the page) or can play it online by just clicking the title. You can also close the browser in disgust at this point or download the file and then drag it to the recycling bin. (Yeah, I'm having a case of nerves as I post's the whole "first time" thing.)

And Happy Thanksgiving!

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Rises early for a healthy breakfast

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Asher Greets the Jayhawk

Asher has been kind of weepy lately, so it's a good thing we discovered this antidote. GO JAYHAWKS, combined with the current state of KU football and basketball?--instant contentment.

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Find Great Coffee Easily with the Delocator

When it comes to perfectly roasted beans and precisely pulled shots of espresso, CORPORATE CHAIN actually spells COMPROMISED COFFEE.

That's why I expend lots of nervous energy and drive time figuring out which local coffee shops can actually deliver good espresso. But my job just got easier.

Enter the Delocator.

You just type in your zip code, specify a search radius, and voila, instant delocation: a listing of independently owned coffee shops nearby. (This is as opposed to corporate chains, which typically employ "locators"--clever word play, eh.) The Delocator also works for book stores and movie theaters, and I see no reason why it won't get better with time, since the locations are supplied by users.

This is a beautiful, beautiful thing that the Delocator does--and apparently it was designed by one person. Whoever he/she is, he/she is a genius in my book. If I'd stumbled on this tool sooner, I could have spared myself all kinds of coffee-related stress. Go give it a shot. And then go buy yourself a shot. Or several.

In closing, I'm happy to say that the Delocator confirmed the fact that I am already up on all the good coffee shops in my area. Which was a kind of bittersweet affirmation.

HT: The Phenomenal Field

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Beowulf, the Movie--For Real This Time

If they had actually been in their graves, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would have compulsorily turned over when Beowulf and Grendel was released, to critical disdain, in 2005. The ancient story was loved by them both (glimpses can be seen in their writing), and Tolkien wrote an influential essay, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics."

However, the latest film incarnation of the epic poem might just meet with their approval--although I'm not sure what they would say about the choice to cast Angelina Jolie as the mother of the monster, Grendel. Creative liberty has definitely been taken, but perhaps it would be offset by the presence of Anthony Hopkins, who played Lewis, after all, in Shadowlands...

At any rate, Beowulf the Movie looks much more promising this time around. Writes esteemed critic S.T. Karnick:

In addition to its considerable literary merits, Beowulf is significant as the first Christian epic poem. Composed some time in the eight to tenth centuries A.D. in what is now England, and set in Scandinavia in the fifth and sixth centurues, the poem, whose author is now lost to history (and which is probably taken from oral sources), tells of events in pagan times but explicitly places them in a Christian context and explains their meaning in thoroughly Christian terms.

Thus in addition to being a rousing adventure story and epic tale of civilizational struggle, the poem is a fascinating document of Europe's transition from paganism to Christianity.

The current film adaptation, directed in a stylized, full CGI presentation by Robert Zemeckis from a screenplay by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, brings this element to the fore.

And in memorable fashion, if the trailer is any indication. We will be seeing this one. However, do yourself a favor and read the book first! My favorite translation is by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Highly recommended. If you've read Tolkien, Beowulf is like "roots" material, with a starkly beautiful storyline, huge battles, and dramatic heroism.

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Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife