Tag Archives: films

I’m in love with a fantasy.

“You’re in love with a fantasy.”

“I sometimes think I was born in the wrong decade.”

“The present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying.”

(dialogue from the film Midnight in Paris)

Midnight in Paris may be Woody Allen’s last great movie, and it’s one of my favourite films of all time. I relate a lot to the main character, Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson (who, as far as I’m concerned, is the perfect actor to play the Woody Allen part for younger characters). Gil is an aspiring novelist who thinks the best time and place is Paris in the 20s.

Here’s a clip of some dialogue between his fiancée (Inez) and two friends (Paul and Carol), after his fiancée starts to tell them about the novel Gil is writing. The lead character works in a nostalgia shop.

Here’s a thirty second clip:

Here’s the dialogue:

CAROL: What’s a nostalgia shop?

PAUL: Not one of those stores that sells Shirley Temple dolls and old radios? I never know who buys that stuff – who’d want it.

FIANCÉE (pointedly): People who live in the past. Who think their lives would have been happier if they lived in an earlier time.

PAUL: And just what era would you have preferred to live in. . . ?

FIANCÉE (teasing Gil): Paris in the twenties—in the rain, when the rain wasn’t acid rain.

PAUL: I see. And no global warming, no TV or suicide bombing, nuclear weapons, drug cartels.

CAROL: The usual menu of clichéd horror stories.

PAUL: Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present.

FIANCÉE: He’s a romantic. Gil would be just fine living in a perpetual state of denial.

PAUL: The name for this fallacy is called, “Golden Age Thinking.” The erroneous notion that a different time period was better than the one one’s living in. It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those who find coping with the present too difficult.

I’m not sure if I’m entirely a Golden Age Thinker, but I’ve certainly used Gil’s exact words in my own life: “I sometimes think I was born in the wrong decade.” I long for an elusive simpler time. Earlier in the film Gil’s fiancée tells him that he’s “in love with a fantasy.” And the film is about Gil figuring this out.

It’s a really fun film: it’s set in modern-day Paris, but, through mysterious circumstances, every night at midnight in a certain spot in the city, Gil gets picked up by a chauffeured vintage car, which takes him to hobnob with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, and a host of other famous artists (most of whose names I don’t recognize) in 1920s Paris. [SPOILER ALERT!] There he falls in love with a beautiful young Parisienne of the time, whom he later discovers wishes she lived during La Belle Epoque—Paris in the 1890s—because her decade—Gil’s favourite—is boring.

Eventually Gil realizes that “The present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying,” which is a lesson I’m still learning. I think I can’t quite accept the fact that the present—beautiful, difficult, depressing, hopeful as it is—is all I have, as odd as that may sound.

Which is why Gordon T. Smith stung with some of his words in his book Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity. In a chapter about vocational holiness (“Called to Do Good Work”), he writes,

We are called to be present to our circumstances, our world—to be agents of peace and justice in the world as it actually is rather than as we wish it were. This means we turn not only from pretense (wishing we were someone else or acting as though we are someone else) but also from wishful thinking and illusion regarding our circumstances.

This means that we do not live emotionally in a previous time. We have no patience with “the good old days.” They are long gone. We discern in light of what is actually the case today. This also means we do not engage in wishful thinking. In other words, we do not dwell on what we wish were true but on what is actually true.

We live in the world as it presents itself—no nostalgia, no pining for an earlier golden age. We are not waiting around for good fortune to suddenly and finally hit us. We stop investing emotional energy in the “what-if’s,” and we get on with it.

All of us are called to such a time as this. None of us are ahead of our times, and no one is born too late and able to complain that the opportunity passed us by. Rather, we are each invited to respond to the call of God for this day.

(Gordon T. Smith, Called to Be Saints, 104-105)

Eugene Peterson, addressing pastors in Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, has much the same thing to say as Smith, but he says it much more succinctly: my work is “these people, at this time, under these conditions” (p. 131).

I have some maturing to do I guess. As we all do. But it’s not maturing I particularly want to do, even though it would make the difficulties of today that much more bearable. I think Gil’s realization that “the present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying” is in many respects a very Christian perspective. We recognize that we live in a broken world, and all is not well, even as we hope that eventually it will be.

I’m reminded of something I quoted in a post almost twelve years ago:

Our creation story does not call us to roam through life in the pursuit of happiness. In fact, that is the very thing from which we are saved. Our story portrays the great journey of God into his limited and needy creation.

Biblical hope is found when Christians hear the gospel and take their place in the great processions of the body of Christ. The proclamation of that hope is that in communing with Christ we discover all the grace we need to live joyful but limited lives. For in communing with God we encounter the mystery of his presence with us.

(M. Craig Barnes, Yearning: Living Between How It Is & How It Ought To Be, p. 21)

Wishful thinking, the grass is greener, “Golden Age Thinking”. . . none of these things actually make things better. In fact, they probably make them worse.

Here is the moment of realization for Gil, which his Parisienne love (Adriana) does not understand, but is a lesson worth remembering. They’ve jumped from the 1920s to the 1890s, and Adriana wants to stay in the 1890s, Le Belle Epoque:

Because if you stay here and this becomes your present, sooner or later you’ll imagine another time was really the golden time. . . The present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying.

. . .if I’m ever going to write anything worthwhile I’ve got to get rid of my illusions and that I’d be happier in the past is one of them.

(dialogue from Midnight in Paris)

Or, if I’m ever going to be a better pastor, or if I’m ever going to live a worthwhile life I’ve got to get rid of the illusion that I’d be happier in the past.

2015: the year in my entertainment (and travel)

Watching

None of the films I saw this year stand out. Over the years I’ve become less and less interested in going to the theatre to watch a film. I’d rather watch it at home when it comes out on DVD. But Dixie loves the movie-going experience, so I go with her from time to time. I believe every film I saw in theatres was relatively disappointing. The one exception this year, which I did not see on DVD, was Interstellar, which was mind-bendingly entertaining.

(I’m beginning to wonder if my attention span is rapidly shortening, thanks to YouTube, Facebook, etc. I just don’t have the patience for films anymore, even the ones I love.)

I did enjoy a couple British game shows this summer, though, which led to a discovery of every episodes of Q.I. (Quite Interesting) on YouTube. What a fun show! Entertainers talking about interesting but ultimately useless facts. Just my kind of show.

Listening

I entered this year listening mostly to The Head and the Heart. But in the spring I discovered, thanks to Rdio (R.I.P.), Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors and I was hooked in a way I haven’t been since I was introduced to Arcade Fire some eight years ago. And I haven’t paid attention to and learned lyrics like I have with DH&tN since high school: maybe The Barenaked Ladies’ Gordon or Counting Crows’ August & Everything After. It’s catchy and moody folk-rock that I can’t get enough of. (I wonder how long that will last? In theory I still love mid-80s—mid-90s U2 and R.E.M., but I rarely listen to them.)

Two bonuses (boni?): my entire family likes DH&tN. They’re one of the few artists who do not provoke argument when put into the car stereo. And I believe Drew and his wife are Christians. Ordinarily this wouldn’t make much of a difference to my enjoyment of the music, but thoughtful, quality folk-rock created by people of faith, that isn’t kitchy or platitude-filled Christian marketing output is hard to come by.

Reading

This is a tricky category. If I finish a book it means one of two things: I had to read it for an assignment and/or I really enjoyed it. (Or my literary guilt pushed me through). I read plenty of books this year, but here are a few that stood out:

Nick Hornby, Ten Years in the Tub — ten years of monthly columns about the books he’s been reading. Highly entertaining.

Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust — the former Archbishop of Canterbury reflects on the Apostles’ Creed. Wise and deep.

Bruce Cockburn, Rumours of Glory — Cockburn’s autobiography. Insightful and interesting.

Henning Mankell, Faceless Killers — An attempt at some “mass market” reading. This is the first of the Kurt Wallander novels. I enjoyed the BBC tv series starring Kenneth Brannaugh. The book was good. The second book in the series, The Dogs of Riga, was a bit of a chore to get through. Thus ends my reading of this series.

And I would remiss if I didn’t mention Bill Bryson’s latest, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island. Bryson is always fun to read, and I heartily welcome his return to travel literature.

Travel

This year I travelled well over 40,000kms. That includes a visit to Denver (via Phoenix), Alaska (via Seattle), Knoxville (via an epic 50-hour bus ride with 40-some teenagers), and England (with the family). It was a good year for travel, but tiring, too.

 

The Giver

Dixie and I just watched The Giver. (Meryl Streep for her, Jeff Bridges for me.) In short, it is a dystopian film. Think Hunger Games (though without the violence) or 1984 or The Dispossessed or Fahrenheit 451 or The Truman Show or Pleasantville or Blade Runner or (apparently) The Maze Runner or (apparently) DivergentThe Giver has elements of all of these films/books as far as I can remember.

On a surface level, it was a good movie: entertaining, good soundtrack, plot develops well (although I called a major plot element of the film within the first minute). Generally speaking I like dystopian books and films, because they are effective in making me think about our world, where we’re going, how we’re going about it, how we think, what we believe. It’s enjoyable genre in that sense.

Yet there is a part of me that is always a bit suspicious of what’s behind the vision. What does the author or director have in mind with the book or film? Who or what is he or she thinking of? As a a Christian and a somewhat cynical person, I tend to assume that modern dystopian films are about organized religion. Now that I’ve written that sentence it sounds a bit silly to assume such a thing, and yet I don’t think it’s that far-fetched.

On the other hand, the “message” of The Giver could be interpreted any number of ways and that’s of course what happens. It could be interpreted in favour of organized religion as the keeper of our true memory. It could be interpreted as an indictment of our society’s “pluralism-cum-homogeneity.” There is a certain “sameness” inherent in pluralism as popularly presented. Someone else might interpret it as being the opposite: an anti-religion film.

So maybe I should stop being defensive and just watch the film and process what I see in the film.

Reading the book after watching the movie. [UPDATED]

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.)

UPDATE: As it turns out, reading the book has in a small way ruined the “Lonesome Dove” TV miniseries. In an unexpected turn of events, my fond memories of the miniseries which were revived and relived through the reading of the book took some of the “magic” away from the miniseries.

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.