Tag Archives: films

Reading the book after watching the movie.

I still remember watching the “Lonesome Dove” miniseries on TV in the mid-1980s. My parents let me stay up past my bed time to watch a couple of episodes, although when it got violent I was no longer allowed to watch. I saw enough to be moved emotionally and in my imagination. I was hooked on that story. “Lonesome Dove” follows the story of a handful of old Texas Rangers who decide to drive several thousand head of cattle and horses from south Texas up to Montana, as yet unsettled.

I’ve watched the series a number of times since, having bought it on VHS in university (and since then the DVD version and recently a remastered wide-screen version). About two weeks ago, I picked up the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Larry McMurtry on which the miniseries was based. I’ve owned the book for years, but at more than 900 pages, it’s quite intimidating to start. This time I was immediately hooked and managed to read through the whole thing in less than two weeks. It’s a wonderful novel, with well-rounded characters. A great tale of the trials and tribulation of this motley cattle crew. 

What struck me was that the miniseries—at least, as it exists in my memory, since it has been about a decade since I watched it last—was incredibly faithful to the book. So much so, in fact, that right from the beginning, in my mind the characters in the book looked and sounded liked depicted by their respective actors (Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in particular). In some cases, a book is spoiled by watching the film version first, but I can think of a number of cases where I’ve read the book after its film version and thoroughly enjoyed the book. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if the film was one I particularly enjoyed, my experience of the book is enhanced by the viewing.

Lonesome Dove. As I read I began to realize that both Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones played their roles perfectly, but I don’t know if I can say that retrospectively. I might think this simply because I’m reading their performances into the novel.
– Pride and Prejudice. I don’t know if I would have read this one if I hadn’t seen the A&E miniseries (the Colin Firth one) first.
A Prairie Home Companion. There is no novel version. But there is a screenplay published in book form. I read it after watching the movie and loved it.
True Grit. I’m about a third of the way through this one. The recent Coen Brothers’ version is what’s in my mind as I read (in fact, my copy of the book is the movie tie-in version). I’ve read that the Coen Brothers’ version is more faithful to the book than the 1969 John Wayne version.
– No Country for Old Men. Another Coen Brothers film, based on the Cormac McCarthy novel. Also a very faithful adaptation.

I used to insist that it was better to read the book before watching the film version. But looking at the above examples, I’m inclined to say that reading a book after watching its movie version is a much better experience than watching the movie version after reading the book.

The Lord of the Rings films were good adaptations of the books, though as the years pass I think less and less of the performances (with the exception of Saruman and Denethor). That’s because they don’t live up to my mental vision of those characters. The Hobbit films are terrible adaptations of a childhood favourite, but are otherwise well done and for the most part entertaining (although I can’t stand all the battles). The Da Vinci Code is a unique instance of me being neutral on the film vs. book question. I could say that the film wins by a hair because the writing in the book is terrible. But then the book was an incredible page-turner, which the movie didn’t match with engagement/tension.

And then there’s Simon Birch, the atrocious “adaptation” of John Irving’s wonderful A Prayer for Owen Meany. (Although, reading up on the film a bit more now, I realize that the film doesn’t bear the title of the book because Irving thought it was too unfaithful an adaptation, but because Irving didn’t think the book could be successfully adapted to the screen and therefore sold the rights with conditions about the name. In which case, perhaps I should take it a little easier on the film.)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel only tells the truth about tea and biscuits.

Dixie and I went and saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on Saturday. We were easily the youngest people there. I realize that the target demographic is probably retirees, but I was nevertheless quite astounded at (impressed by?) the number of people that fit the demographic in the theatre. I felt a little out of place. Dixie felt right at home. She sat next to an older lady who thought Dixie had come with some of the seniors (from a nursing home, perhaps?). “Nope,” Dixie said, “I’m on a date.”

Anyway, it was a nice story overall and interesting setting, but I didn’t think the movie told the truth in several places. Lots of individualism and the American dream transplanted to India, and those stories are untrue as far as I can tell.

But here is one place the film did tell the truth:

Indian Man (referring to English Breakfast tea): You call it “builder’s tea”?

Evelyn (Judi Dench): Yes. We dunk biscuits into it.

Man: Dunk?

Evelyn: Means lowering the biscuit into the tea and letting it soak in there and trying to calculate the exact moment before the biscuit dissolves, when you whip it up into your mouth and enjoy the blissful union of biscuits and tea combined. It’s more relaxing than it sounds.

Indeed. Biscuits (particularly the Maria ones) are a delight when dunked in tea.

A book and a movie

I handed in a paper today, one which has been looming over my semester, bogging me down, for several weeks now. Contrary to what I had expected, the “loominosity” hasn’t lifted.  This might be because the paper was fairly open-ended, so I had to set boundaries to it which seemed somewhat arbitrary to me.  It feels incomplete, but it probably would feel that way no matter how long I worked on it. So I handed it in.

Maybe that looming feeling relates to something else. Whatever it is, I don’t like it.

Maybe it’s the time of year. Strangely enough, I find early spring kind of depressing and bittersweet.  The melting snow, the mud, the cool temperatures.  I went for a bit of a walk the other day which was actually uplifting.  Maybe in spring my soul longs for solitude. Maybe that’s it.

Anyway, last week I managed to watch one of the Academy Award contenders for Best Picture: A Serious Man. It’s a modern retelling of the story of Job and the film is as open-ended as that Biblical book (as well as their film, No Country for Old Men). But the lack of clarity or resolution is, I suspect, partly the point of the story, so it didn’t frustrate me as it might have.  It’s a darkly funny film and the acting is terrific.  It’s entertaining and thought-provoking and bears repeated viewing.  4/5 stars.

Also, last week I read most of James Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. It was an excellent book, which argued for what has been called “ancient-future” worship: appropriating the traditions and practices of the ancient (or even simply premodern) church into a postmodern context.  Smith is a proponent of “Radical Orthodoxy“, which is a position he argues for in the book, and he has piqued my interest in that movement.

My only critique of the book is that it focuses too much on the “emerging” church and the “postmodern” church, which, in my mind, seems to pin the movement to an “ism” rather than as an authentic form of church without strict ideological allegiances (such as “we are a postmodern church”). However, I suspect that one of the reasons he insists on doing this is because part of function of the book is a critique the so-called “postmodern church” which Smith argues is actually thoroughly modern (simply a revamped version of the “seeker sensitive” model).

I highly recommend this book, particularly for those who are skeptical of postmodern thought and its relation to the Christianity and the church.

Are you the singing bush?

Around junior high, The Three Amigos was one of my favourite movies (along with Uncle Buck and The Great Outdoors).  It’s a classic slapstick comedy starring Martin Short, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin (who, Dixie notes, would have been the Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell of that day).  I could quote it nearly back to front.  It made a resurgence in my college years out tree planting, where every now and then someone would shout, “It’s a sweater!”.

I made a mistake when Dixie and I just started dating.  I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I found myself renting and watching The Three Amigos with a group of Dixie’s high-school-aged girlfriends.  It was a bit of a humiliating experience. I would guffaw every now and then, but they sat through the whole thing stone-faced. One of them fell asleep.

I recently was reminded of the film and looked it up.  I can get it for $7 on DVD from Amazon.  I’m thinking it might be a worthwhile addition to our collection, regardless of what Dixie (and her friends) may think.

Gran Torino

On Saturday, Dixie and I had a second opportunity to see Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, a film about bitter, retired autoworker, his Gran Torino, and the disappearance of his old neighbourhood.

(Spoilers ahead: if you don’t want this film ruined for you, stop reading.  Just take this and run with it: I give it 4 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it.)

At first the movie seemed like just another redemptive/coming-of-age story–something that would fall into a similar category as The Man Without a Face.  But as the story progressed I was drawn in.  The conclusion to the film…er…saved, if you will, the rest of the story.

I don’t want to turn this film into a sermon, but there is a definite redemptive arc to the film.  In the end, Clint Eastwood’s character takes what you might call the “third way” to deal with the core problem of violence in the story and becomes a Christ-figure (quite literally, in terms of imagery).

Sorry of that ruins the movie for you.  It’s quite popular these days to find Christian imagery in movies and sometimes it’s annoying, but it was unmistakable in this film, and I’m usually the last one to catch this sort of thing.

Plus, I cried a couple of tears at the end of the film.  If I hadn’t choked the rest of them back, it may have turned into sobs.

4 out of 5 stars.  Highly recommended.

in which I ramble…

Well, this is pathetic, isn’t it?  This blog is going to pot.  Completely.

I realized today that one of the reasons I’ve been blogging less lately is because I’ve been preaching more (approximately twice each month for the last couple of months).  Most of my writing energy and time has been directed at preparing and writing the sermons, which in the end doesn’t leave much for blogging.  Seems kind of obvious now, but it didn’t click until today.

I can’t say that the rest of my spare time has been spent studying for my seminary course–far from it, unfortunately!  It seems my study habits are no different now than they were in university nearly a decade ago.  But I’ve been fretting about the course and trying to work on it and think about it, which is draining.  And I find that required reading isn’t nearly as stimulating and thought-provoking as chosen (i.e. recreational) reading is.  I know I chose to take this course, but I think you can understand.

As my own personal confession I will tell you that I’m finding St. Augustine’s Confessions less than engaging.  Confessions is almost required reading for every Christian at some point and I had hoped it would be more enjoyable than it has been.  Maybe it gets better once he gets past the distractions and lusts of his youth (which aren’t at all tittilating stories, if that’s where you head is at).  I’m hoping that his conversion will be a turning point in Augustine’s book as well as his life.

I’m oscillating between panic (DEAR GOD!  HOW ON EARTH WILL I COMPLETE ALL THIS BY THE BEGINNING OF JUNE?!) and perhaps an overly optimistic rational calm (you have lots of time!  Read something you enjoy!)  Right now I feel calm.

I suspect the timing of all this could have used a bit more thought by yours truly.  It may not have been the best thing to start this seminary course just at the time that I was also starting to work at the church part time.  But then, knowing who I am and how I work, things would probably not have been much different if I had taken the course in other circumstances.

I have taken some time for myself and my family.  There has been some oscillation there, too (DEAR GOD!  CAN I AFFORD THE TIME TO WATCH THIS MOVIE WITH DIXIE?! and Take it easy for once!).  

I watched The Hours with Dixie the other night.  Philip Glass wrote the score.  His minimalist music is always stunning.  I first heard of Glass after inquiring into the beautiful score for The Fog of War (which you should watch), then I heard one of his “Dance #something or others” on CBC’s (now cancelled) Disc Drive.  I’ve never purchased an album or soundtrack by him–it feels like his music calls for immersion and yet I can’t bring myself to spoil the beauty of the music by having it around all the time.  It’s kind of like eggnog: if we had it all year, it wouldn’t be nearly as special.

Oh–how was The Hours?  It was pretty good, although there’s a good chance the mood of the music made the film for me.  But it was an interesting story.  It’s a study of bisexual relationships.  No–I’m kidding.  I kept joking about this throughout the film (breaking one of my own film-watching rules): lesbian kiss here, lesbian kiss there.  Oh, wait!–she also had a male lover earlier on in life, and this male lover is now gay as well.

But don’t let that stop you from watching the movie.  

For the morally sensitive ones among us, I recall a Bible college professor’s suggestion that the value of a film should not be judged by the moral actions of its characters.  There was more to it than that, of course (because clearly a pornographic film cannot be justified this way).  He made a connection to the Bible, which would be rated R or worse if made into a film (including all the gory sex and incest and murder details).

Moving on…

At Dixie’s urging, I plowed through Rob Bell’s new book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, earlier this week.  She she thought it was pertinent to what I was thinking about for today’s sermon.  It was, to an extent.  I heartily recommend this book.  Rob Bell has an amazing ability to explain big theological concepts in non-high-falootin’ terms.  It can be read in a matter of a couple of hours (thanks in part to his one-sentence paragraph style: I noted to Dixie that his publishing style is remarkably unfriendly in terms of conservation).  And there’s an “Aha!” moment every couple of pages.

I’m also almost finished Scot McKnight’s new book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, which I received as a Christmas gift.  Even though I’m not finished it yet, I already heartily recommend it.

So I’ve managed to fit in some chosen reading as well.  My justification: it’s personally edifying and beneficial to me and my position at the church and hence the church.

What I really need to do is learn to focus.  Much time is wasted aimlessly wandering around the house, flipping through books, checking email, being on the internet for no particular reason.  I hate to say it, but a little efficiency would go a long way for me.  I need to refine my use of time.

That is all.

Monday Mix

Watched Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events the other night.  It got mixed reviews from the critics and its domestic (U.S.) gross didn’t make up the film’s production budget.  But I enjoyed.  Jim Carrey was excellent as Count Olaf.  I was worried that he’d play Count Olaf in a too Jim Carrey-ish way, but he did quite well.  The humour in the role was more quirky than rubbery, if you know what I mean, and he did well.  Quite a dark film—could’ve been directed by Tim Burton (but it wasn’t)—and not sure what to make of the ending, but still…3.5/4

Of course, I’ve always thought Jim Carrey was a fine actor.  The Academy has a hard time with crossover actors, at least at first (Tom Hanks has broken that barrier, though).  One day Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell will get their due acclaim.

* * *

Looking at some of my site stats, particularly country of origin for hits.  Lots of 1 and 2 hit stats from all over the world, which I consider flukes or bots or spam.  The number spikes in the UK, but I know I have at least one regular reader there.  Canada is the majority source for hits, with the U.S. in distant second. But there is an oddity: a significant number of hits from Switzerland.  Enough hits to not be accidental.  Who could that be?  Swiss reader: show yourself!

* * *

The worst part of writing a sermon?  It’s impossible to include everything without taking up an enormous amount of time, turning it into a lecture and losing everyone in the process.  I wonder if any sermon ever feels complete to some degree.

* * *

My favourite song ever?  “The Pink Panther Theme” by Henry Mancini, for several reasons:

1. Apart from everything else, it’s a fantastic song.

2. It moves me, probably because

3. It’s steeped in memory.  As a young boy in Holland I must have seen a episode of the animated Pink Panther at some point, because I remember seeing a number of opening credits when they played the Pink Panther movies (starring Peter Sellers) and getting excited.  The opening credits always involved the animated Pink Panther character and the animated Clouseau character in hot pursuit.  I loved those opening credits, which included the theme song, because I thought it was an episode of the Pink Panther.  But I was always disappointed when the “episode” ended and the live action film began.  I appreciate Inspector Clouseau much more now than I did then.

* * *

I anxiously await Phil‘s review of the Bob Dylan concert in Regina.  I’ve heard Bob Dylan’s concerts can be quite “tempermental”: sometimes they’re fantastic, sometimes they’re terrible.  Here’s a review by my seminary course “instructor”.  I take his review as “mixed”—good because it was Dylan, not so good because of poor sound.  He links to the setlist, which is largely made up of post-1997 material.

* * *

I’m listening to some music samples on BobDylan.com.  Some observations:

1. Why is it that the best artists go through nearly-unlistenable periods in the 1980s?  Bob Dylan and Bruce Cockburn both do and it’s a shame.  I have a large Bruce Cockburn CD collection, but there is a huge gap in there spanning the late-70s and the 80s.  1978-1986 are nearly unlistenable years musically (although I’m sure he remains lyrically brilliant during that time).  And just at the time when Cockburn comes to his musical senses, Dylan dives into his own period of 80s darkness.

Who ever thought that drum machines and synthesizers were a good idea?

2. Bob Dylan’s “born again” albums are fantastic.  Shot of Love is a personal favourite and, based on what I’ve heard on the website, I think both Saved and Slow Train Coming are worth purchasing.  (I’ve said it before, but I can hardly believe that “Gotta Serve Somebody” won a Grammy for Best Song—not because it’s a poor song, but because it’s so overtly evangelical.)

3. I could use more Bob Dylan.  The unfortunate fact of being born in the mid-70s and not getting into Bob Dylan until well into my 20s is that I have a lot of catching up to do.