Archive for May, 2006
I’m pretty new to the genre of comic book movies (still haven’t seen any of the Batmans except the recent Batman Begins, and I haven’t seen any of the Supermans, though Porpoise informs me that I will be going to see Superman Returns later this summer). But, hey, I’m willing to try anything that has Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen.
So I watched the first two X-Men movies a few weeks ago in preparation for X-Men: The Last Stand. They were fun. And I loved Alan Cumming’s neurotic blue vampirish-looking mutant Nightcrawler—I’m so disappointed he didn’t return for the third movie. Maybe they felt they already had enough blue characters. Or maybe Cumming was too busy in rehearsals for The Threepenny Opera.
Anyway, because of my lack of experience in the genre, I feel unqualified to say a whole lot about X-Men: The Last Stand. I liked Kelsey Grammer’s (also blue) character Beast, especially his attempt (soon abandoned) to quote Churchill in the midst of battle. I was annoyed that the filmmakers chickened out on some of their plot decisions at the end (though, admittedly, it seems to be a feature of the X-Men universe that no one stays dead—ever). I appreciated the ethical issues raised by the film, but I thought that the resolution failed—if you’re going to present answers to a question, make sure they’re tenable answers.
Mostly, though, I’m annoyed at Manohla Dargis, She Who Writes Asinine Reviews for the NY Times. I love the other Times movie reviewers, especially A.O. Scott, whose Da Vinci Code review had me in stitches. But, even when I agree with Dargis’s overall judgment, she makes some sort of factual error or ludicrous claim that makes me want to give the paper to the Cherub and let her shred it (I usually encourage her to shred Porpoise’s Wall Street Journal editorials).
Witness her X-Men 3 review, which bears the title “X-Men: The Last Stand Asks Are Mutants Born or Made, and Should They Be Cured?” Now, I ask you, where, in any of the X-Men movies, does anyone ask whether the mutants are born or made? Nowhere. The mutants are born that way, plain and simple. Perhaps Dargis imagines that she heard this question being asked because she insists on seeing the movie as an allegory about LGBT people. Now, there were definitely moments in the movie during which I thought of parallels to the struggles of gays, but there were also times when I saw parallels to identity issues for disabled people, not to mention the obvious references to the Holocaust and other genocides. To pin the movie down as an allegory for any of these single issues is to deny all the other possible references it can have.
Anyway, I’ve been wanting to rant about Manohla Dargis for a while, and I had to seize my chance. I’m hoping some of you will have more relevant commentary about X-Men 3. I know that slightlyjillian really liked it, while Possum thought it was even worse than The Da Vinci Code. So feel free to present your pro- and con- arguments here!
Oh, and I just have to say that I’m really disappointed that Hugh Jackman is going to do a spin-off Wolverine movie. I love Hugh, but the time he spends doing action movies detracts from his time on the stage. He’s not even going to host the Tonys this year—sniff! I mean, look at him in Oklahoma: wouldn’t you rather hear him sing “Poor Jud Is Dead” than see him flex his claws in a quite possibly sub-par action spin-off? So, please: no Wolverine movies unless there is singing and dancing. And bring Alan Cumming back, too!
May 30th, 2006
First of all, a few words of advice for anyone contemplating a trip to Oahu:
1. Stay at Sharon Price’s B&B in Kailua. Sharon is fabulous, her prices are good, and she has friendly pets. Moreover, the B&B is less than a mile from the nicest beach—and one of the least populated—we saw on all of Oahu. Kailua is an easy 30-minute bus ride from downtown Honolulu, but it feels worlds away from all the Waikiki craziness—which was a good thing, as far as we were concerned.
2. Never, EVER, buy spray-on sunblock. It does not work, even when applied diligently every hour. If you want proof, I can show you bits of formerly sunburned skin that are flaking off my shoulders as I write.
3. Make sure you go to the Waimea Valley Audubon Center, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and Pearl Harbor. More on each of those later.
4. Order coconut sorbet at Buzz’s Restaurant in Kailua. Buzz’s coconut sorbet is the new love of my life. Porpoise also decided that Buzz’s Lava Flow is the best drink he’s ever had.
5. If you’re trying to photograph birds with a digital camera, make sure you turn off its cheery little ding-a-ling noise, because, if you don’t, all you will get are photographs of birdie bottoms as they fly away. Again, I can offer ample proof.
6. Do not consent to leave until you have seen at least one mongoose.
Did you know that there are mongooses in Hawaii? I sure didn’t, until the retired Navyman sitting next to us on our flight into Honolulu told us about them. Naturally, at that moment, I became obsessed with finding a mongoose.
It’s not too hard, they say. Mongooses have become quite prevalent on the Hawaiian islands since their introduction in the 1880s. You see, Hawaii has no native land mammals except the hoary bat (didn’t see one of those, and that’s fine with me, after my bat-astrophes last summer).So when Europeans brought rat stowaways with them on their ships, there weren’t many predators (other than a few birds of prey) to manage the new rat population. Hence, lots of rats.
So leave it to the Europeans, brilliant ecological strategists that they were, to introduce another problem. Sugar planters imported Indian mongooses to control the rats that were destroying their crops. Well, it turns out that rats are nocturnal and mongooses, though they may be either nocturnal or diurnal, are primarily diurnal in Hawaii. They didn’t eat many rats, but they did eat lots of eggs of the nene, the goose (now endangered) that is Hawaii’s state bird. Of course, there were no larger predators to eat mongooses, and they’re now fairly widespread on the islands. Our B&B host claimed that you can even see them on golf courses now.
Anyway, the mongooses really shouldn’t be there, and they do some harm, but it isn’t the mongooses’ fault. They’re just doing what nature equipped them to do. And, besides, they are cute, and I was obsessed with Rikki-Tikki-Tavi when I was little, and I might never again have the opportunity to see a mongoose out in the wild (even if it wasn’t that wild), so I was really excited.
Porpoise indulged me. Everyone else laughed at me. The other couple staying at our B&B even saw a mongoose when they went out to Hanuama Bay to snorkel. They told us about it over breakfast, and then the male half of the couple unintentionally uttered the most devastating words he could have spoken to me at that moment: “It almost looked like a little otter.” Oh, the cruelty. Waaaah! It looked like a little otter, and I might not get to see one!
Our last day on Oahu, we drove to the Waimea Valley Audubon Center on the island’s north shore. It’s a lovely nature preserve/arboretum, but, most importantly, it was there, in a clearing, that I saw a flash of brown fur and a little weaselly body. I immediately let out the shriek heard round the world, at which point any hopes of photographing said mongoose vanished. Oh well. I was too busy performing the “I saw a mongoose” dance of joy to hold the camera still anyway.
One day I may develop the observational skills (including, say, quietness) of a naturalist. Right now, though, I can’t contain my excitement at seeing a new animal. Even if it is a pest. I, as a human, am a worse ecological pest, so at least we have something in common.
May 28th, 2006
Hey, y’all: check out today’s article on a subject near and dear to my heart, “God and Man on Screen.” It’s an interesting analysis, stating that most post-Passion films use religion as a hook to draw audiences in, but they don’t end up really exploring any deep questions, instead reverting to the trite (including trite criticisms of organized religion as opposed to vague, decontextualized “spirituality”).
I haven’t seen The Omen or The King, but I agree with the article’s analysis of Saved and The Da Vinci Code. I thought Saved was cute and funny, but I thought it actually would have benefitted from issuing a sharper critique of evangelical culture, rather than resorting to “let’s all accept each other” at the end. Perhaps such a critique needs to come from within evangelicalism–prophets reform from within–since it was clear that the filmmakers weren’t quite as familiar with the evangelical subculture as they should have been (no evangelical high school would ever put on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar).
I do have to say, though, that I disagree with the paragraph about The Passion of the Christ’s appeal. Caryn James writes, “Presenting the story without question, that film either spoke to an audience or not, based on each viewer’s belief in Jesus’ suffering.” Porpoise and I, though Christians who believe in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, were unimpressed with The Passion (as were some other Christians that I know). This has more to do with our personalities and tastes than with our faith. It may be a valuable film–though I do also have problems with the perhaps unintentionally anti-Semitic portrayal of the Jewish leaders–but that’s not to say that all Christians will love it, simply because the story accords with what we believe. We also care about how the story is presented.
Do read the article, though. It’s interesting.
May 27th, 2006
. . . you know you’re in for some silliness. Such is the case with the recent movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code.
Yes, Porpoise and I are back from Hawaii, and I plan to recount some of our adventures on The Ottery. But first I have to blog about Da Vinci, because I’ve been holding it in for almost a week now. Plus, we’re going to see X-Men 3 (yay! another movie featuring Ian McKellen acting silly!) tomorrow, and I can’t juggle two movie blog entries in my head simultaneously.
So, yes, we saw The Da Vinci Code in Hawaii, which normally I would have considered a waste of valuable hiking time. However, we had been badly roasted by the sun the previous day, and nothing sounded better than sitting in a cool, dark place for a couple of hours and laughing our heads off. Which is what we did.
Anyway, back to the Council of Nicea. I don’t know whose idea it was to attempt to render Leigh Teabing’s monologue about suppression of the “sacred feminine” less boring by interspersing it with historical flashbacks, but whoever thought of it has about as much storytelling sense as Dan Brown, which is to say, about as much storytelling sense as the dead muskrat perched atop Tom Hanks’ head.
The “Council of Nicea” scene features a room evenly divided down the middle, with white-bearded men in togas yelling and gesticulating threateningly at each other. You almost expect one of them to leap across the room and start beating a representative from the other side, à la Brooks’ caning of Sumner in the U.S. Senate. Either that, or you hope that it’ll somehow turn out to be a Monty Python-esque sketch, complete with singing and dancing.
Alas, The Da Vinci Code ‘tis a silly place, but it doesn’t know it. If Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman weren’t so darn earnest, they could have taken the unintentional camp of the novel and run with it. Instead, they stick reverently to the high-blown cheesiness of the original.
Take another moment from the Teabing monologue (which, in the book, is a Dan Brown monologue divided between Teabing and Langdon—more on that change later), when he recites the “proof” that Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ had a romantic relationship. The book quotes the Gospel of Philip thus: “Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth.” In the movie, Teabing quotes thus: “Christ loved her more than all the other disciples and used to kiss her often on her—,” at which point Sophie breaks in with another question. Now, the movie version is actually more accurate, as Goldsman must know: in the manuscript of the Gospel of Philip, the object of the preposition is illegible, which creates some pretty funny possibilities. If you know that, it makes you laugh at the line’s movie treatment. But if you don’t know that, it makes no sense.
There’s actually one aspect in which the novel is even superior to the movie—which really does not speak well for the movie. Brown, in spite of his horrific prose, does keep you hooked with cheap tricks and mysterious escapes that aren’t explained until the next chapter. It’s manipulative and lazy on the author’s part, but it works. The movie couldn’t even provide that kind of cheap thrill—the action sequences simply come off as flat.
That said, I am intrigued with some of the changes the movie made to the character of Robert Langdon, the Harvard “symbologist.” I spent most of the novel wanting to kick him, because he’s this suave know-it-all who is quite obviously Dan Brown’s image of himself. Tom Hanks’ Langdon is more unsure (perhaps because of his hairdo) and more humble. And, poor thing, he had a traumatic childhood experience that left him claustrophobic. When Teabing declares something to be fact, Hanks’ Langdon inserts, “It’s merely a theory”—a change perhaps intended to pacify the book’s critics, but one that also seems in tune with Langdon’s character as presented in the movie. Langdon’s doubts about Teabing’s assertions turn the film into something of a conversion narrative for Langdon. Though Teabing, as interpreted by Ian McKellen, is mad, Langdon and Sophie gradually come to accept the theory as truth.
Or do they? By the end of the movie, as Langdon and Sophie are discussing the impossibility of proving that she is descended from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, Langdon makes a statement something along the lines of “Faith is whatever you choose to believe.” Though it’s a pretty insipid message, I was fascinated with how the movie’s ending made room for mystery and doubt as part of faith. In contrast, Dan Brown presents his account of Jesus and Mary Magdalene as gospel truth, his gospel truth. The one true story, which has only one interpretation. In short, Dan Brown is a fundamentalist. He just happens to preach different fundamentals from the Christian fundamentalists he decries.
Yet what the film gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. It gives us a portrait of faith as mysterious, but then, at the end, when Langdon kneels at what the clues suggest might be the tomb of Mary Magdalene, instead of leaving us with his unproved and yet newly held belief, the camera takes us down and shows us what he can’t see, that Mary’s sarcophagus really is down there. Blah. So inconsistent with what the film was, at times, trying halfheartedly to make its theme.
Again, in Langdon’s and Sophie’s conversation about faith, Langdon asks, referring to Jesus’ nature, “Why does it have to be human or divine?” Um, well, it doesn’t, which is kind of the point of Christianity. The paradox of Jesus being human and divine is the central paradox of the Christian faith, one that, if accepted, has to be accepted as a mystery that we will never fully understand in this life. But the film can’t leave it there. Instead, Langdon has to tidy things up, to tie up loose ends in a nice little aphorism, by saying “Maybe human is divine.” Well, ladies and gentlemen, there you go. No more worries to boggle your mind.
Both the novel and the movie of The Da Vinci Code, I would argue, underestimate their readers/viewers and condescend to them. However, I’m glad for both, because they’ve opened up room for some intelligent discussion (and some stupid discussion, too, of course) about faith and religious history—and art, too, I suppose. People, if given access to information, are smarter than Brown and Howard and Co. give them credit for. They can handle facts, and they can handle mystery. And they can also have fun with both, which is more than I can say for the pomposity of The Da Vinci Code.
May 26th, 2006
Porpoise and I will be swimming off the shores of Hawaii for the next week. I tried to convince the Cherub to take over blog duty while we’re gone, but she said she would be too busy napping and licking her fur. So you’ll have to think your own otterish thoughts for the next few days. Much joy!
May 15th, 2006
So says Jesus in the recently republished manuscript of the Gospel of Judas. Let me tell you, that ain’t my Jesus.
I was at a party last night when a few key words signaling “religion discussion alert!” reached my ears. Naturally, I lunged for that side of the room, found out that the conversation was about the Gospel of Judas, and ended up delivering a mini-rant about why Gnosticism annoys me. A friend (let’s call him “Subcomandante Possum”) then asked if I was going to report this discussion on my blog. “No!” I replied indignantly. “I don’t mine daily conversation for blog material.”
So . . . I lied. I really wasn’t going to write about the Gospel of Judas, because plenty of people already have (check out Philip Jenkins’ article on Beliefnet—it’s a good one), and I’m not sure I’m adding anything. But then I woke up in the middle of the night and found myself composing the entry in my head, so I figure I’d better write it for the sake of my own sleep, if nothing else. So here we go. Subcomandante Possum, as last night’s assistant in slamming Gnosticism, this one goes out to you.
I’m not going to talk much about the details of the canonization process, about how the early church selected the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while rejecting other contenders. Experts can tell you a lot more about that than I can. All I’m going to say is that it was not, as Dan Brown and others have implied, a top-down, hierarchical decision made at the Council of Nicea by Constantine or anyone else. A consistent, de facto canon had already been formed by the early Christians who passed around the texts that are now part of the Bible. As Bible scholar Craig Evans explains, “Those early Christian groups were generally poor; they couldn’t afford to have more than a few books copied, so the members would say, ‘I want the Apostle John’s gospel, and so on. The canonical Gospels are the ones that they themselves considered the most authentic.”
And that’s part of what makes me believe the canonical Gospels, as opposed to the Gnostic ones. It was the people, ordinary people in communities of faith, who recognized the authenticity of the canonical Gospels; the Gnostic Gospels, on the other hand, were the ones promoted by those who wanted to be the elite, those who wanted to view themselves as more enlightened than others—specifically, more enlightened than poor Jewish believers.
Several religion scholars have claimed that the discovery of the Gospel of Judas will help to combat anti-Semitic trends in Christianity (by explaining that Judas wasn’t really a traitor; he was simply doing what Jesus instructed him to do). Now, I heartily agree that anti-Semitism is a problem that needs to be addressed—and I believe that Gnosticism one of the last places on earth to look for a remedy, for, in its origins, practices, and beliefs, Gnosticism was thoroughly anti-Jewish. It was a way for the Greeks to reject all that offended them about the Jewish roots of Christianity and to separate themselves from those “primitive” people with their strangely concrete beliefs.
And what was most offensive about Jewish Christianity? Its emphasis on the goodness of the material world, especially the body. For Gnostics, the material world was evil, and so they ascribed its creation not to God but to an evil demi-urge. To become truly enlightened and divine, you had to cast off the body, which was separate from the soul (in contrast, consider the Hebrew word nephesh, meaning one’s whole being, body and soul wrapped up together). To the Gnostics, it was unconscionable that God would come in the form of a human, because human bodies were evil. Thus, the Gnostic Jesus of the Gospel of Judas tells Judas, “you will sacrifice the man that clothes me,” thus freeing Jesus to transcend the body and become divine—just as the Gnostics believed they, too, would become, if they gained access to the special secret knowledge hidden from everyone else.
The Jesus I know and love would never tell a disciple, “Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom.” If you look at Jesus’ life and teachings in the canonical Gospels, it’s pretty clear that there’s no chance of understanding the mysteries of the kingdom apart from others. There are no secrets. Plenty of weirdness, yes. The Bible is a pretty weird book, and Jesus is a pretty weird guy, so I can’t dismiss the Gospel of Judas on the grounds of weirdness alone. But the Gospel of Judas is precisely the sort of weirdness that I would expect people to come up with, because it sets up those hierarchies and divisions that we tend to crave. Jesus, on the other hand? As W.H. Auden wrote, “I believe because He fulfills none of my dreams, because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could have made Him in my own image.”
And yet the mystery (a very public mystery, not a secret one) of Jesus, according to Christianity, is that we are made in his image. Jesus’ incarnation as a human is a signal flare flashing out that God actually kind of likes these bodies God created, as well as the particular environments in which those bodies live. Here’s an experiment: take a look at the Gospel of Judas and observe how no specific places are mentioned—for the Gnostics, specifics would get in the way of enlightened abstraction. Now take a look at the canonical Gospels. Place names abound. Jesus gets hungry and tired and irritated and amused, and fully embraces the messy goodness of the human body.
So I guess I could say that the beauty of the Incarnation is the reason I get ticked off at Gnosticism. And I really can’t think of a better expression of incarnational beauty than my favorite Gerard Manley Hopkins poem:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices,
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Ha! In your face, Gnostics!
I do also have to mention that today, as we were picking up a pizza, a little boy in the parking lot looked up at Porpoise and said “Hello, Jesus.” Or maybe it was “Hello, pizza.” One of the two.
May 14th, 2006
Having just watched the season finale of “The Office,” I am rendered incapable of intelligible speech. All I can come up with is a word I learned recently from slightlyjillian: squee.
In fact, I was running around the house squee-ing until Porpoise did a blog search and showed me how many other blogging females across the country were squee-ing over Jim (John Krasinski). Ick. Very sobering to see how silly they are. I, on the other hand, have a completely rational and healthy admiration for my favorite Dunder Mifflin employee. Yes, indeed.
What has induced the squees? After two seasons of repressed tension, Jim confessed his love to Pam (who is engaged to someone else, which is a problem, because Jim and Pam are best friends and were clearly meant to be together). And then the episode ended with a somewhat ambiguous kiss.
Now the episode was really gratifying for all us Jim-fans out there, but I’m worried about what they’ll do next season. We all knew something had to happen to stall the wedding, but I honestly didn’t expect this—yet. And that makes me fear that on-and-off relationship trauma between Jim and Pam will characterize the third season. There’s no way that could be fun–and we otters demand fun.
Maybe I’m just worried because Porpoise and I have recently watched (under partial compulsion) every episode of Aaron Sorkin’s dramedy “Sports Night,” a show that forgets that it needs to be funny and throws its characters into pointless emotional conflicts. Plus, all Sorkin’s characters speak identically, because the man can’t seem to write with more than one voice. (Sorry, Mr. Ectype and all you other Sorkin fans out there).
But “The Office” is not “Sports Night,” thank goodness. For one thing, lots of different writers work on the show, and most of them are also actors within it. Tonight’s episode was written by Steve Carell, undoubtedly the most famous cast member, who plays obnoxious boss Michael Scott.
Given Carell’s fame and many talents (one of which is singing “Age of Aquarius” while dancing around in pajamas), many of us were anxious to see how his screenwriting would fare. Now that I’m trying to think back to what happened before the “squee” moments, I recall lots of laughing by our assembled viewers. Lots of strange, eccentric, lovable things were said, but, as usual in “The Office,” one of the best characters was the camera, which, in faux reality-show style, makes silent commentary on the action simply by its timing and focus. Also, unlike Sorkin’s talky-talky shows, “The Office” knows what to do with comic pauses and facial expressions. And did I mention that it’s actually funny?
So, as long as the Jim-Pam plot hasn’t been set up for a train wreck, I think Carell did a pretty good job with his writing. Here’s hoping that Mindy Kaling (who also plays Kelly on the show) gets to do more writing in Season 3, because she’s written my two favorite episodes so far: “The Injury” (in which Michael cooks his foot in a George Foreman grill) and “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.”
Oh, and one more thing: Jim!
May 11th, 2006
The above line was our favorite moment in the laughably earnest Tristan + Isolde (2006). One of the Cornish warriors utters it, and then is immediately silenced by an arrow to the neck. We began giggling uncontrollably. It was like something out of Monty Python, only it didn’t know it.
We didn’t have high expectations from Tristan + Isolde. First of all, it’s kind of a dumb story, though it seems to have been the only story popular in medieval northern Europe (Tristan, Arthur, the Niebelungenlied—it’s all pretty much the same). T + I is obviously trying to cash in on the popularity of the doomed-adulterous-lovers myth (Did you notice that clever little “+” sign in the title? Did you notice how it’s copied from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet logo? Sophisticated movies like us don’t use ampersands.)
I knew to lower my expectations even further when the blurb on the back of the DVD claimed that the film was “in the spirit of Braveheart and A Knight’s Tale.” Now I know it’s just a blurb, and that people who write the blurbs haven’t necessarily seen the movie, but I was concerned that the blurber seemed to think Braveheart and A Knight’s Tale share the same spirit. Anyone who thinks that has the discernment of an Irish setter. “Yay, medieval clothes! And axes! Yay, axes! Pant, pant.”
Actually, Tristan + Isolde seems to be following most faithfully in the spirit of 2004’s King Arthur, which took all the myth out of the legend and replaced it with gritty, though absolutely historically inaccurate, “realism.” T + I is set in some mysterious period called the “Dark Ages,” which has the distinct advantage of being anywhere between 472 and 1400 A.D. Given that the Normans haven’t arrived in England yet, that narrows things down a bit, and since they give the Irish king the name Donnchadh, I’m guessing they were shooting for a vaguely 8th-century setting.
And yet Isolde has access to a volume of John Donne. Never mind that books were so rare at this time that wars were waged over copying them. Never mind that Donne wouldn’t be alive for another 900 years. “The Good Morrow” is a nice poem about love—let’s stick it in! Repeatedly!
I really don’t mind the historical inaccuracies all that much. I mean, it does allow me to feel superior and knowledgeable. And, after all, Braveheart played pretty fast and loose with history. But Braveheart did so to create a compelling story, an element noticeably absent from Tristan + Isolde.
Now I think adultery plots are stupid to begin with, but if you’re going to make a movie about one, you’d better make it apparent why the two protagonists are in love. No hints in T + I, other that they’re both young and pretty. Maybe Tristan really just wants Isolde’s books, which possess the magical property of letting you read texts that haven’t been written yet. Anyhow, as a reviewer quoted on Rotten Tomatoes said, “This couple has endured for over 900 years; the least Tristan + Isolde can do is show us a reason why.”
The movie tries to make up for the lack of depth in the romantic plot by feeding us all sorts of stuff about how all the “tribes” (Cornish, Saxons, Angles, etc.) need to unite to defeat the common enemy of Ireland. The lines in the political segments are just plain corny, though, as they were in King Arthur.
Why do I keep watching these mediocre medieval movies? I have to admit that they’re fun to laugh at, if you watch them with other people. Plus, they keep putting actors I like in them. NOT the interchangeable pretty boys Heath Ledger and James Franco. I am referring to Clive Owen and Rufus Sewell (who was in both A Knight’s Tale and Tristan + Isolde). If the filmmakers only gave these men some good lines, they could chew the scenery.
May 11th, 2006
Those readers present at the Porpoise-Otter wedding a few months ago know that we’re probably the only couple in the world who chose the story of Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22:22-35) as one of our ceremony readings. Why? Well, it’s always been one of my favorite Bible stories (it has a talking donkey—what more could you ask?), and Porpoise thought it might at least be entertaining for friends and family who aren’t so familiar with the Bible. And it sure gave people something to talk about at the reception.
Then, of course, there’s Jesus choosing a donkey for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That, combined with the fact that the donkey is the symbol of the Democratic Party, must mean that Democrats are God’s favorites. (Okay, okay, sorry to readers who don’t share my political views—I just get a bit snarky with rhetoric implying that Republicans are somehow more Christian than Democrats. In truth, I side with Jim Wallis’s “God Is Not a Republican or a Democrat”–though I certainly have my own preferences!)
Back to my main subject, which is the adorableness of donkeys.
As far as hagiographic accounts of donkeys, St. Francis refers to his own body as “Brother Ass”: something to be fenced in occasionally, but also something to be cared for and loved (which Francis didn’t always do that well; on his deathbed, he apologized to “Brother Ass” for mistreating him). If you think of the respect St. Francis had for animals, that’s no insult.
My new favorite donkey-and-saint story doesn’t have much to do with the donkey itself, but I love it anyway. It’s about Teresa of Ávila, and I found it recounted in Dorothy Day’s spiritual autobiography The Long Loneliness:
“Once when she [Teresa] was traveling from one part of Spain to another with some other nuns and a priest to start a convent, and their way took them over a stream, she was thrown from her donkey. The story goes that the Lord said to her, ‘That is how I treat my friends.’ And she replied, ‘And that is why you have so few of them.’”
To paraphrase Animal of The Muppets, “That my kind of saint.” She knew God well enough to sass him and serve him—perhaps rather like a donkey.
May 10th, 2006
I’ve always loved the character of Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia—how she’s brave and curious and tender-hearted and sees things that others don’t. When I was ten or eleven and my church youth group played around with the idea of putting on a play of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I knew I was destined to play Lucy. But we never actually did. And I never got through the back of my closet, even though I kept an emergency bag (filled with string, a flashlight, and crackers) there just in case.
So I knew I would be particularly anxious about who played Lucy in the recent movie adaptation. I need not have worried. The film as a whole has some faults (though it’s way better than my worst fears, and overall pretty good), young Georgie Henley captured my heart from the beginning.
I should clarify that I usually don’t like children much. I read lots of children’s books, but I’m not fond of the stickiness and noisiness of real kids. But Porpoise and I decided that a small, clean, intelligent—and let’s not forget cute—ten-year-old wouldn’t be that bad. We could read to it. Porpoise has suggested that I inquire about whether Georgie Henley is available for rental.
She’s even more endearing now that we’ve listened to the director’s and four-kids’ commentary on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe DVD. She’s actually a little imp. She gets things off to a good start when she says, “You look like a monkey! Your ears stick out!” to her costar Skandar Keynes (Edmund) the first time he appears on screen. Apparently she also introduced the “potty-mouth bucket” to the set during filming, and insisted that any cast and crew who swore in her presence had to pay money to the bucket. Creative child.
Listening to the commentary, you do get the impression that she’s a bit of a chatterbox, but she’s so excited about everything that you don’t really mind. She’s very tickled by the memory of the day she ate a pencil on set. Why? It’s kind of hard to hear her explanation amidst all the giggles, but it seems to have had something to do with being in the Beavers’ house.
One of my favorite Georgie Henley stories is about how, when director Andrew Adamson gave an iPod as a thank-you gift to each of the four children, Georgie thanked him profusely. She then turned to her mother and whispered, “What is it?” Yes! Not only is she adorable, but she has Luddite potential!
Hey, Georgie, if you ever read this, you can come live with us. We have an extra room in our basement. We’ll feed you pencils. And we’ll read to you.
May 6th, 2006