Monday, December 31, 2012

Glad Tidings of Liturgical Beauty and Joy: Hey, That's My Church He's Talking About!

In St. Ignatius’ eighth rule of discernment he admonishes us that when we are in desolation we should comfort ourselves that we “will soon be consoled.” And so it is that on the final leg of our vacation trip home we encountered a jewel of Catholic worship in Dallas, Texas. As God in His providence obviously provided, we selected a parish purely based on our interest in the beautiful architecture and convenience of location. He had much more in store for us than we could have ever anticipated.
The church Dan Burke talks about in his National Catholic Register article is our parish church, St. Thomas Aquinas in Dallas. Of course, we love our church but it was really wonderful to read such an appreciative article about it. Faithful liturgy is the keystone to any great parish, right?

I'm glad the 7:30 a.m. with organ and cantor was so good. However, one of the glories of our parish for me is that there is a wide variety of music, depending on which Mass you attend.

Imagine all that Mr. Burke describes but with a full choir of volunteers so good that they have inspired envy among those with paid choirs. That's the 11:30 a.m. Mass.

Then there's the Saturday vigil Mass at 4:00 on Saturday, with an all-men's choir that features Gregorian chant. And a lot of Latin too. I have to use the handout for that one every time.

I'll even give a shout out to the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass which features more modern music (not too modern, mind you) that has a very good folk choir. It is not to my taste but the music director has a light touch that makes the music shine in a very non-folksy way.

Here's a YouTube link of a rehearsal that gives you an idea of the full choir.

Here are a few photos of the church.

Altar (The angels only come out for Christmas and Easter. They live in the church office otherwise.)

Nativity Scene

This shows the church from the choir loft. Not in holiday garb, but with the choir in their black garb for a formal concert.

A Very Good Christmas

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I had one of the best Christmases ever.

For one thing, the reason I was so little present in the last week is because Rose spent almost 10 days visiting from L.A. so I stayed home from work and did little personal blogging.

In preparation I had been forcing myself for some weeks ahead to wrap gifts, bake, and do other such tasks so that my daily work was light when she was with us. It was truly wonderful to have her visit for so long, as our little white dog Kaylee could tell you. She was delighted with having a young lady in whose room she could sleep, whose steps she could dog (ha!), and who she could generally worship.

Also, with God's grace, somehow my Advent reading led me to an ever-greater appreciation of the Incarnation. By the time we got to Christmas, I was overcome with the wonder, love, and delight of it all. And that is truly a gift which I do not often receive.

All in all, we were blessed to have such a wonderful Christmas. I hope that everyone was likewise blessed.

FINAL: My 2012 Movie Challenge List

Originally written December 2011.

I realized that there, in addition to "must read" books, there are also movies that I've been wanting to watch for a long time but will ignore for a lighter or more modern choice. So here's my personal 2012 movie challenge list, in no particular order (this also resides as a page at A Good Story is Hard to Find).
  1. Dodes Kadan - Kurasawa (watched it and now can say that I've seen a Kurasawa film. Interesting and with many touching stories, although not a movie that I think I want to see again.)
  2. The General - Buster Keaton (Hilarious. Touching. Amazing. All that from a silent movie. This is a movie that you should watch if you haven't seen it. I was amazed at how much information can be conveyed without a single dialogue card.)
  3. Hotel Rwanda (An amazing movie about a horrible subject. But one that should be seen if only to remind us that such things happen and not as infrequently as we think. The acting is top notch, especially Don Cheadle).
  4. The Last Days of Sophie Scholl
  5. Water (India)
  6. Red (French w/ Polish director, 1st of trilogy)
  7. The Passion of Joan of Arc (silent)
  8. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (We are put in the paralyzed man's spot so much that I wanted to get up and stretch a lot. However, it is life affirming and shows the power that attitude makes in getting through seemingly unsurmountable obstacles.)
  9. Of Gods and Men (2011)
  10. Metropolis (German)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Les Miserables — Yes.

Yes. It is worth the time.

Yes. It is worth the ticket price.

Yes. It is worth the tears I shed.

Yes. With the director in the end credits, I thank his parents for teaching him to love musicals.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Go see it.

(Now I have to go revise my 2013 reading list.)

Saturday Jokes: more for Christmas, from England!

Joseph from Zombie Parent's Guide writes:
Can I submit some jokes for your Saturday posting? We had Christmas crackers again this year, which is a British tradition. The cracker is a cardboard tube that two people pull apart from either end. When the tube breaks a little firecracker goes off, hence the name "cracker." The tube also has some prizes and a joke. Here's the best of the jokes from our crackers this year, though you have to remember your UK vocabulary (like football = soccer)...
And of course I can't wait to see and share these jokes! So here we go!
What goes: now you see me, now you don't, now you see me, now you don't?
A snowman on a zebra crossing!

What's an ig?
An eskimo house without a loo!

What's the difference between the Christmas alphabet and the ordinary alphabet?
The Christmas alphabet has Noel!

Why was Cinderella such a poor football player?
She kept running away from the ball!

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Season of Mystery by Paula Huston [Updated]

A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of LifeA Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life by Paula Huston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Transcending the endless cycle of want-satisfaction also gets us ready for death and what follows. My friend Betty, age eighty-five, sums it up like this: "Getting old is about preparing for the next life. But nobody these days is thinking about that anymore." ...

So how shall we face old age and dying? We can set aside the comforting myths that tell us we can indefinitely postpone what's coming next. We can cease the frantic efforts to achieve all our unfulfilled goals before we die. Then we can move into this most challenging phase of life with both eyes open, remembering that our real purpose here on earth is to be "servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries" (1 Corinthians 4:1).

A Season of Mystery asserts that this second half of life brings on the "best of times and the worst of times," as my eighty-five-year-old friend Brother Emmanuel ruefully puts it. The losses are painfully real. But so are the opportunities, if only we can allow ourselves to let go of the myths. When we do, we open the door to genuine adventure, including some of the richest spiritual experiences we may ever have.
Being about 5 years behind Huston in age, I have just gotten to the point where the last year has brought some of the reminders for my husband and me in a "realization of change" ... or, in other words, we're getting older and on the doorstep of facing physical (and probably mental) changes that come with being old.

This book resonates on a lot of levels although, thankfully, the realizations I have had which mirror Huston's have come at a lesser personal price ... in most instances anyway.

Each of the chapters considers a spiritual discipline that is especially suited to this time of life and which we may have been too busy to even consider before. Disciplines like "Listening," "Accepting," and "Befriending" may seem broad but they are directed toward helping readers be prepared for some of the classic obstacles associated with aging. In each, Huston gives her personal experiences and those of her much older friends. This gives a nice book-end look at where we may be now versus where we may wind up given perseverance.

This is not a difficult book to read, although you may find your thoughts turning more to last things after you have read it. But that's not a bad thing either, because if we don't have our eye on where we are going then we'll be unprepared when we get there. I read it in one evening. This also says something about how well accessible Huston's writing is.

One thing makes me laugh every time I turn the book over though. This is a book about aging and acceptance and Huston's photo on the back is clearly from a younger age or someone who is trying to look younger than they are (as I come across every single day in Dallas). It jars me every time I see it. Knowing, as I do, that publishers often go their own road instead of doing what the author wants, I don't know who made that decision. It is too bad, however, that they didn't use this photo of Huston on either the front or back cover. This is a small point but small points do matter.

NOTE: I wrote this for the Patheos Book Club. Publishers pay for the Patheos Book Club to feature their books ... and I received a review copy free. However, my opinions are my own and I love or hate a book on its own merits.


Well, well, well ... I was wrong about the outdated photo versus the newer photo. Ms. Huston said that the current photo is the one on the book and that she'd been told cutting her hair made her look younger. So we see she was told the truth! My apologies for my assumptions.

Julie's 2012 Personal Reading Challenges [FINAL]

FINAL results on books I've read (or dropped) thus far. Originally written in December 2011.

One Sunday, when we'd gone to the Vigil Mass on Saturday to avoid getting embroiled in a local marathon that shuts down all the streets around our church (don't ask ... Tom has been enraged before to the point of risking arrest for civil disobedience).

Wait, what was I saying?

Oh. Right.

Anyway, we were sitting around until about 1 p.m. in our jammies talking about cabbages and kings and whether pigs have wings ... and about reading and classics. I realized that I have a handful of certifiable classics which I really want to read but that I keep acting as if the Reading Fairy is going to drop extra time and a book on my lap when I'll suddenly begin reading.

Bravely taking responsibility on myself, I made a list.

I love making lists. Don't you? And crossing things off them.

So here are my "must reads" ... I may not get through all of them in 2012, but I will be trying to always be reading one of them despite other distractions. In no particular order.

2012 Classics
  1. The Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky (begun on Jan. 1 - dropped in a few weeks. Looking for either an audio version or a different translation as I just couldn't connect with that one, though I read 150 pages. Began it again a month later. Dropped it again.) Turns out that our book club chose this for 2013 ... so I will be reading it but will take it off my "personal" reading list since it is no longer a self-imposed book.
  2. Bleak House- Dickens ... loved it! (review here,  review/discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find)
  3. Middlemarch - Eliot
  4. Belly of Paris (Emile Zola)
  5. Last Call - Tim Powers (not a true classic, I know ... but still a "challenging" read which is what all these are for me)
  6. A Movable Feast - Hemingway
  7. The Four Quartets - T.S. Eliot
  8. Wuthering Heights ... partway through and then had to take a break because I just hate Catherine and Heathcliff so very much. Will resume in 2013.
2012 Religion
  1. Introduction to the Devout Life - St. Francis de Sales ... have begun this.
  2. The Way of Perfection - St. Teresa of Avila
  3. The Sabbath - Abraham Heschel (read this in the spring and, although Heschel's writing could be high concept at times, found it riveting. The idea of living in sacred time, of time being our temple on earth is fascinating and one that I find very helpful in prayer.)
  4. Introduction to Christianity - Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI LOVED IT! Dense but accessible in tons of places. (excerpts and review at Goodreads)
  5. Joan of Arc - Mark Twain
2012 Rereading
  1. The Sand Pebbles
  2. Fahrenheit 451 - Bradbury (read this for A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast and found it very thought provoking and more poetically written than I recalled.)
  3. Fire and Hemlock - Diana Wynne Jones
  4. Lark Rise - Flora Thompson
2012 Nonfiction
  1. A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bryson (tried it a couple of times and realized that I didn't actually care about the short history of nearly everything. Not Bryson's fault. So it is off the list.)
  2. Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life - Margaret Kim Peterson
  3. On Pilgrimage - Jennifer Lash
  4. Twain's Feast - Beahrs
  5. Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature (A good although flawed look at how revisionist tactics and understanding literature do not mix. The flaws come more from the author's vehemence and also some surprising gaps in authors covered. I mean to say, can one really discuss American literature without even mentioning Steinbeck?)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best Books of 2012

Top books I read in 2012 with descriptions in 10 words or less. In no particular order.
  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    A great book. Too bad she didn't stop at that one.

  2. Gospel of Mark (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) by Mary Healey
    Very accessible while still being scholarly. (my review here)

  3. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
    A children's story that isn't just for kids. I listened to Gaiman's excellent narration. (discussion/review at A Good Story is Hard to Find)

  4. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
    Made me wish both sides could win the Battle of Gettysburg. (review at Goodreads; discussion/review at A Good Story is Hard to Find)

  5. Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
    A book about books, people, places, and life. (review at Goodreads)

  6. The Hidden Princess by Stephanie Angelini
     Enchanting new "classic" fairy tale (My review here)

  7. The Art of Faith:A Guide to Understanding Christian Images by Judith Couchman
    Just what the subhead says (my review here)

  8. Heidi by Joanna Spryy
    An old classic still has the power to surprise. (my review here)

  9. The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions
    Subtle ghost story a la Turn of the Screw (review at Goodreads, audio reading/discussion at SFFaudio)

  10. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
    Mystery, horror, romance, character examination, and riveting  (review here,  review/discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find)

  11. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
    In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit... reread. (review and related items here,  review/discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find)

  12. Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI)
    Dense but accessible in tons of places. (excerpts and review at Goodreads)

The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy ...

... last episode finally coming up!

What Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy? Here you go. (Via Scott Danielson.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Three Minutes a Day ... Good For You and Good for Our Culture

Remember when I was telling you about some good books to give for Christmas? Three Minutes a Day  is not only good to give for Christmas, but for any time.

Tony Rossi tells you more about the book and then gives you an example of the sort of story you'll find inside. I know about some of them, because I wrote some pieces included in the book. And when I was flipping through my copy, I found many, many more.

Go read his example. My book is by my bathroom sink, where I will begin reading my 3 minutes daily on January 1.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Magnificat Year of Faith Companion - review

I have long been a fan of Magnificat's books. Their simple companions to praying the rosary or to the liturgical seasons of Lent or Advent have served as guides to helping me focus on prayer and meditation. Their more complex books such as The Beauty of the Word or the series praying with the gospels help me to steadily meditate on larger works over the year. In short, I have come to rely on them.

When Pope Benedict XVI's proclaimed this liturgical year as The Year of Faith, Magnificat produced a Year of Faith Companion with short readings focusing on faith. This pocket-sized book is packed with reflections for every day of the year from over 30 contributors, ranging from laypeople to religious and clergy.  The readings are also wide-ranging, falling into one of eight categories: Biblical faith profiles, scriptural reflections, catechism excerpts, devotions, essays, meditations from saints and spiritual masters, prayers, and poetry. All in all, there is a wealth of material at your fingertips in this small book.

My one problem is that faith is such a broad topic it can be difficult to get a grip on it. It is one thing to have so many contributors spread among so many formats if there is a clear focus, such as reading a gospel line-by-line through the year. When it is applied to something as relatively formless as faith, then things can get a bit chaotic. As a result, reading daily left me feeling unfocused and a bit adrift.

Luckily, I don't have to read this using the calendar dates at the top of each page. I simply chose one of the categories I mentioned above, such as Biblical faith profiles, and then began reading one a day. Leafing through the book each day to find the next one also led to other items that caught my eye, such as a devotion about Christ's Seven Last Words, and so it has become an interesting voyage of discovery to find my own particular focus.

My point in saying all this is that, although I do not think this book works perfectly as Magnificat designed it, there are many ways one can benefit from this booklet which will help the reader discover new joys in their faith and a deeper connection to God.

I wrote this review of Magnificat Year of Faith Companion for the free Catholic Book review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Aquinas and More is the largest on-line Catholic bookstore. I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Scott loses the riddle game ...

... when he forgets the name of every actor he mentions. Meanwhile, Julie and Scott get lost in the tunnels of Tolkien-y goodness for a very long time.

At long last, The Hobbit is discussed at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hannah's Silks Routine

Finally. I've been looking for videos of her silks routine to share.

Catholic Nerd Alert

The Mass of the Roman Rite (2-Volume Set)

Its Origins and Development 
Price: $90.00
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 1056
Trim size: 6 x 9 inches
ISBN: 978-0-87061-271-8

What does it say when I cruise over to Ave Maria Press to see what new books are out ... and this is what grabs my interest?

So much so that I am printing out the 16-page excerpt.

I'm not even at Catholic geek level, people, because these days geeks have a certain amount of cool ... I'm down to nerd alert. So uncool ... and yet, I don't care. Which is, in itself, a true indicator of nerd-dom.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sorrow is a hole in the heart, and grace rushes in to fill it.

There are many good, thoughtful pieces being written in the wake of the terror and tragedy in Newtown.

Two struck me at heart more than others.
... Until we understand that people of their own freewill coldly plotted and executed the death of the incarnate God, we can never really understand what life and death mean as we travel through this vale of tears.

And even once we do understand it, it doesn’t always help. We’re human, after all. We recoil from pain and tragedy. We demand answers. We tremble in rage at the prospect of a God who seems to have turned away from us.

Good. That’s the normal response. If your first response is, “It’s God’s will” or “This is what you get when you take God out of schools” or “God doesn’t go where he’s not wanted,” then to hell with you.

First, it’s not God’s will. Evil is the absence of God, meaning this is the opposite of His will.

But God also draws good out of evil events. Sorrow is a hole in the heart, and grace rushes in to fill it. “The world breaks everyone,” Hemingway wrote, “and afterwards, many are strong at the broken places.”
Yesterday evening, Thomas L. McDonald was supposed to teach Church history to a roomful of 14-year-olds who had questions about tragedy in our own time. He began with the heart of our history and took it to where we live today. Read all of it in The Broken Places

Coming from a very personal place, Liza Long writes I Am Adam Lanza'a Mother.
Three days before 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year-old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.

"I can wear these pants," he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.

"They are navy blue," I told him. "Your school's dress code says black or khaki pants only."

"They told me I could wear these," he insisted. "You're a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!"

"You can't wear whatever pants you want to," I said, my tone affable, reasonable. "And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You're grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school."

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
Be sure to read the entire piece. There are no easy answers to horrible events like that in Newtown, but surely Long's tale is one that shows where initial solutions must be provided.

Friday, December 14, 2012

More Good Books to Give for Christmas

Indeed, you must be saying to yourself, that Happy Catholic person has quite a large stack of books she owes reviews for.

And you'd be right about that. I consider myself lucky to have had time to read so many, although there are a few that I read so long ago I'm cringing with guilt over not having reviewed them yet. Ah well ... we do what we can.

These all have my thumbs up and will show up again with more comprehensive reviews in tow.

A Child's Book of Values: Classic Stories from Around the World by Esteve Pujol I. Pons
The name of this book is misleading. Don't get me wrong, it does point out the moral to each story told. However, the main focus here is the international set of classic stories with some terrific illustrations. The biggest negative I can see is that the type is a semi-script style that might be difficult for some children to read. But that's a pretty small negative.

Lectio Divina Bible Study: Learning to Pray in Scripture by Stephen J. Binz
Leads you through a fascinating study of the different types of prayer as shown through the Bible. By looking at scripture featuring the prayer of heroes, prophets, Jesus, and more, the reader is led to contemplate these sorts of prayer in their own life. So far I am finding it very useful and enlightening. A really excellent guide to prayer in the Bible and personal contemplation.

What I Wish I'd Known about Raising a Child with Autism: A Mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years by Bobbi Sheahan, Kathy DeOrnellas
This book made me both very happy that I did not have a child with autism and very empathetic for a friend of mine who has been struggling to do the right thing for her child who was only diagnosed after a long and trying ordeal. If I did have a child with autism, this is the book I'd turn to since it combines common sense from a doctor and practical experience from a mother.

breaking through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves -  Helen M. Alvaré, editor
This is not really my sort of book, yet when I received the review copy and flipped through it my eye was caught by something that sparked a note of recognition and made me think. Picking it up when cleaning off a desk a couple of days later the same thing happened. Which made me think this is not the ordinary "that sort of book." As it turns out I read it quickly and enjoyed it. Jeff Miller has a good review that echoes many of my thoughts about this book.

the province of joy: praying with Flannery O'Connor by Angela Alaimo O'Donnell
This is a beautiful book, both in the cover and content. It guides the reader through the liturgy of the hours for seven days, using Flannery O'Connor's writing for the contemplative prompt. It also includes some of her favorite quotes, prayers, saints, and so-forth. From Paraclete Press which continues to impress me with their interest in melding literature and prayer.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Positive Progress in HHS Mandate Case ... Unreported by Media, Of Course

“…the First Amendment does not require citizens to accept assurances from the government that, if the government later determines it has made a misstep, it will take ameliorative action. There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution.”
Judge Cogan
This concerns the decision last week by U.S. District Court Judge Brian M. Cogan in the lawsuit brought by the Archdiocese of New York, ArchCare (the agency coordinating Catholic healthcare in the archdiocese), and three plaintiffs from the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island, against the administration for the unconstitutional HHS mandate.

The administration was asking for dismissal, contending that the suit should be dismissed because they were going to change the HHS mandate to address the concerns of religious employers. The judge turned back their motion with the comment above.

Archbishop Dolan noticed the media somehow missed this good news and has written about it at his blog, The Gospel in the Digital Age.

I Knew Her Before She Was Famous: Jen Fulwiler and Minor Revisions

MINOR REVISIONS is a 3-part reality miniseries chronicling the adventures of writer, and atheist-to-Catholic convert Jennifer Fulwiler. Follow Jen as she balances life — launching her book from page to shelf, writing a national newspaper column, homeschooling five kids, blogging her inspiring-yet-hilarious faith experiences…and somehow still finding time to wrangle the ornery scorpions that sneak into her Texan home.
Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary is part of a new reality show, Minor Revisions. Tom and I met Jen when we were passing through Austin and the Darwins graciously had us all over for lunch. Jen is a real person ... smart, funny, quick, and Catholic. I'm not sure how reality TV is going to handle that since it is often full of people who are just the opposite. I'm looking forward to this!

Get the full scoop here.

In Which I Finally Return to Reading Aloud ...

Episode 205 at Forgotten Classics gets us back to the question of second sight, parties, new dresses, and whether two weeks is enough time to know one is in love. Yes, The Unforeseen by Dorothy MacArdle is back on the menu at Forgotten Classics.

Good Books To Give For Christmas

I owe a longer review for most of these. However, I wanted to mention these in case anyone has been wondering whether they were good.

Catholicism: Pure and Simple by Dwight Longenecker
Here's the blurb I have on Father Longenecker's promo page. Easy to read, compelling, logical ... this is a fantastic book.
"I don't know quite how Father Dwight Longenecker did it, but his simple book begins with modern doubts about God's existence and winds up at Catholic teachings about Mary, Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell."
Angels All Around Us: A Sightseeing Guide to the Invisible World by Anthony DeStefano
This book is really about the subtitle more than the title. Angels are a main feature (they are invisible after all) but this book made me vividly aware of the invisible battle and unending battle between good and evil, and our place in it. Very good.

The Doubter's Novena: Nine Steps to Trust with the Apostle Thomas by Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey
I can't believe I haven't mentioned this book here before. Anything by Aquilina and Bailey is always worth reading. Fascinated me with the picture it paints of Christians in India, thanks to the apostle Thomas's evangelization.

Three Minutes a Day (Vol. 47) from The Christophers
A big book of short essays with food for thought and inspiration. Here is their daily "three minutes" page where you can get an idea of what these are like. Disclaimer: I have a few essays in here. But I never saw them when I was flipping through the book and continually was fascinated by the other pieces I came across.

The Year of Faith: A Bible Study for Catholics by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.
I was surprised to see only 6 lessons until I read through it and discovered the depth of information and thought through which Fr. Pacwa is guiding readers. If you're looking for a thematic Bible study, this is a good one.

I'll have more books to bring to your attention soon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Anna Karenina - the movie

This adaptation is actually pretty close to the book which I have read (I'll wait for your impressed gasps to subside), but like all the best adaptations, this uses its new medium to transform it to complement the themes of the book and make it more accessible to modern audiences. Wright uses a stage with moving set pieces and painted backdrops to convey the attitudes and strictly enforced rules of behavior of the Russian aristocracy. Everything they do is watched and judged by their peers because if they disrupt the carefully choreographed steps, it affects them all. This device, which minimizes the amount of exposition necessary in the beginning, reaches a beautiful, intense climax in the dance between Anna and Vronsky which marks the beginning of their relationship. While there are still many of his trademarks as a director, Wright really takes a creative step forward with this film.
A movie that might motivate me to finally read the book ... and a review from Double Exposure that motivates me to watch the movie in the first place, not being a fan of period drama.

I Miss the Cold War: The Hunt for Red October

My rating: ★★★★★
Captain Ramius: I miss the peace of fishing like when I was a boy. Forty years I've been at sea. A war at sea. A war with no battles, no monuments... only casualties. I widowed her the day I married her. My wife died while I was at sea, you know.
A Soviet nuclear sub captained by Sean Connery as Captain Ramius is out for a seemingly routine test run when it suddenly "disappears." The Americans scramble to get defenses in place but CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) believes the Russian commander may have something other than a first strike in mind. A perilous cat-and-mouse game ensues.

This terrific movie hasn't lost anything over the years, except in the area of computer graphics (the high-tech American sub maps look like an old video game). But the acting is great, the tension genuine, and Jack Ryan's character growth real. Also I forgot how good looking Alec Baldwin was when he was young. Wow.

In fact, this is a movie I've seen a million times but I still saw two new things, which probably just shows that I never watched it closely enough. I now understand that the scene with the American plane crashing was included for more than local color and I noticed the Russian doctor murmuring something to a certain someone late in the movie which explained how someone was placed where they were.

More than anything it reminded me of how easy the Cold War was in some ways. You knew who the enemy was, that they were the bad guys and that we were the good guys. I was reminded of that this morning upon reading the latest political correctness/blindness coming from the Powers That Be. No U.S. Army officials were going around trying to blame our guys for not being sensitive enough to Russian culture and provoking attacks. (For more sensible and forceful commentary on this idiotic attitude, watch Skyfall.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

From the Priest Who Was There: Alfred Hitchcock Died Catholic

Some people find these late-in-life turns to religion suspect, a sign of weakness or of one's "losing it." But nothing focuses the mind as much as death. There is a long tradition going back to ancient times of memento mori, remember death. Why? I suspect that in facing death one may at last see soberly, whether clearly or not, truths missed for years, what is finally worth one's attention.

Weighing one's life with its share of wounds suffered and inflicted in such a perspective, and seeking reconciliation with an experienced and forgiving God, strikes me as profoundly human. Hitchcock's extraordinary reaction to receiving communion was the face of real humanity and religion, far away from headlines . . . or today's filmmakers and biographers.
What a pleasure it was to read this story in the Wall Street Journal's Friday religion op ed this morning. It was more like reading a blog post than an article. Do go read it for yourself.

The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again ... and Related Reading

Man oh man. I reread this for discussion in a couple of weeks at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. The Hobbit is the flavor of the month just at present thanks to the upcoming movie, so I'm sure I'm not the only one rereading and finding new insights.

It was still really good even though this is the umpteenth time I've read this classic. I took the opportunity to get the audiobook from the library because I wanted to pay special attention to the songs and poems which were so important to Tolkien but which I always tended to skip right over. I enjoyed being forced, as it were, to listen to them line by line because each time it gave me insight into the singer (or singers, as the case may be).

And can I just mention that Bilbo's burgling career gave me courage for something that I was going to try for the first time? (Not burgling, by the way.) So it is inspirational too. No, I'm not telling. You'll have to listen to the podcast to hear that story.

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)We're not really surprised, are we, that I just finished The Hobbit and then had to hurry right on to my favorite of The Lord of the Ring trilogy? Of course we're not.

Rob Inglis' narration in The Hobbit wasn't perfect (meaning that his interpretation of various voices was not as I "heard" them in my mind's ear), however it was good enough. I'm interested to hear how he handles The Fellowship.

Key to my renewed enjoyment of Tolkien is The Tolkien Professor's 8-part series on The Hobbit and the fact that he's posted his lectures on the Lord of the Rings trilogy from his Tolkien class. He has really helped me to see below the surface of these very enjoyable stories to the Catholic worldview that anchored Tolkien and his storytelling. Olsen's book Exploring The Hobbit has the insights from his lectures with even more information included, according to one of the Amazon reviews. Here's hoping that he will have time to do similar commentary for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Annotated Hobbit: The Hobbit, Or, There and Back AgainThe Annotated Hobbit: The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien

All right, I admit I looked through this quickly, stopping to read whenever the author was NOT giving the original text of the story in the sidebar. Although it is interesting that the original story was retooled to give it more links with The Lord of the Rings, once it became clear that Tolkien was writing something on a larger scale ... as I say, that is interesting but I don't care to read the original.

What this book did, though, was awaken my respect for Tolkien as an artist and illustrator. I had no idea that he was so good at that aspect of story telling. For example, that book cover for the Hobbit at the top of this post was done by Tolkien himself.

As a result, I'm eagerly awaiting J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator by Wayne G. Hammond from the library on that subject and I'd have had no idea about it if not for this book.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Free Advent Audiobook: God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Christian Audio has a dilly of a deal for their free audiobook this month:
God Is in the Manger is the Advent devotional written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the 20th century's most admired and beloved Christians. This devotional includes daily selections for the four weeks of Advent and twelve daily selections for Christmas and Epiphany. In each devotional, Bonheoffer expresses his beliefs that Christ's strength is portrayed the best during times of trial and weakness and God is often heard most clearly by those in distress.

Many of the writings compiled in this book were written while Bonhoeffer sat in prison for two years after being arrested by Nazi authorities for his involvement in anti-Nazi activities. In his writing, he emphasizes the discipline of waiting, which is a common theme of Advent. After experiencing many different instances of helplessness, Bonhoeffer explains his time of struggle and waiting to the Christian who waits for the redemption of Christ.

With thanks to Westminister John Knox Press, we are pleased to offer God Is in the Manger as our December Free Audiobook of the Month!

Life of Pi Discussion

Hey everyone ... if you saw Life of Pi, you may want to check out the comments on my review.

They suddenly came to life with such thoughtful discussion of many of the religious elements. I'm lovin' it!

Just hold the presses another hour ... or two ...

Scott and I discuss The Paper at A Good Story is Hard to Find. Directed by Ron Howard, this is an underappreciated gem with an all-star cast including Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, and many more.


I've often wished for a film equivalent of Goodreads.  For those unfamiliar with Goodreads it is a social network for sharing books and reviews. I'm fairly addicted to it and for the first time could understand those who were addicted to Facebook. There is something about checking out the stream of conversation and reviews of books that I crave.

Is Letterboxd what I've been looking for? I sure hope so.

Letterboxd is a social network for sharing movies. You can use it as a diary to record comments about films as you watch them, to check out what friends are watching, etc.

I just got an invitation a few days ago and I think it might be in the early stages since I don't have many friends in there yet. But the six of us are getting started.

Take a look around and see what you think. Here's my home base.