Thursday, November 30, 2006

Children of Men

Another sneak preview: Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men.

I have a bit of respect for Cuarón, so I was a bit disappointed when I saw this movie's trailer a while back--it seemed hokey and uninspired. Luckily, the mediocre trailer really doesn't do justice to the work itself.

So I guess Cuarón might be my favourite living director. For example, on at least a couple of occasions in this movie, I was watching an amazing scene carefully unfold--very tense, very close, lots of action, great acting--and then I realized that what I was watching was in fact one long uncut shot, and I just about bit off my tongue. On a less jaw-dropping scale, Cuarón makes great use of bits of the set (ads, graffiti, etc.) to give the audience a feel for the world of the movie, which lets him avoid getting bogged down in lengthy and contrived expository dialogue.

The premise of the movie is that it's 2027, and no one has been able to have any children since 2009. Humanity seems doomed, and, naturally enough, most people seem to react by doing their best to ensure that the world ends sooner than later, and as violently as possible. So, all of humanity is lost in utter despair--but now comes, at long last, hope that humanity might yet survive.

In response to this, everything ought to change, the whole world ought to be still and silent, every other agenda ought to be stopped and forgotten. But this isn't what happens at all. For all but a few of the people we see in the movie, either nothing changes, or some things change, but only out of the recognition that this enormously important source of hope can be directly translated into power.

So, the movie has some hefty morals, but it doesn't waste time preaching. Explosions and bullets notwithstanding, the whole thing is nicely understated. Even heroism in the movie is understated--it isn't established through the familiar devices of close-ups of steely gazes or one-liners or rousing soliloquys or even slow-motion shots; rather, the heroism is displayed through (of all things) actions, shown in unadorned, documentary-style fashion.

The movie's also really funny, with some great moments of satire and black comedy.

So, great movie. It even managed to redeem Clive Owen in my eyes, which I wouldn't have thought possible following the breathtakingly awful King Arthur--that alone is quite the feat.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I caught a free sneak preview of Apocalypto tonight. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but the outline on the IMDb page for the movie reads:
As the Maya kingdom faces its decline, the rulers insist the key to prosperity is to build more temples and offer human sacrifices. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), a young man chosen for sacrifice, flees the kingdom to avoid his fate.
The tagline for the poster for the movie reads:
No one can outrun their destiny
And the Wikipedia writeup for the movie claims:
The movie is partially intended as a political allegory about civilizations in decline, in a way referring to the perceived crises Western civilization, and the United States more specifically, may be facing. Gibson compares Mayan human sacrifice with "sending guys off to Iraq for no reason".
All of which gives a pretty much completely misleading impression of the movie. It doesn't deal at all with themes like the collapse of civilizations, or destiny, or political allegory, or anything else of substance. It's a pretty standard Hero's Journey kinda action flick. The hero is ripped out of the world as he knows it (which is almost but not quite entirely destroyed); he has to fight his way back to what remains; he confronts some bad guys along the way. There are depictions of tragic events which momentarily manipulate the heart strings--and then, in most cases, get entirely forgotten in the rest of the movie.

On the other hand, it's got some impressive bits of action, some great gore, and some scenes of absolute hilarity (of both intentional and unintentional varieties). All the dialogue is in some variety of Mayan, which is kinda cool, and some of the costumes and sets are amazing. It's too bad they had to support a Mel Gibson plot.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fake American Thanksgiving

According to Wikipedia, the Canadian version of Thanksgiving started with Martin Frobisher in 1578, a full 41 years before the Pilgrims started doing their thing at Plymouth. So I guess that basically means that the Canadian Thanksgiving is the authentic one.

Anyway, I spent this year's Fake American Thanksgiving in Indiana.

One of the highlights of the trip was passing through the city of Gary, Indiana (birthplace of Michael and the other Jacksons). Let me preface my comments about the place by saying this: I'm sure that, for those who live in Gary and have learned to love Gary, it contains wonders and moments of beauty that my untutored eyes simply fail to register. That said, it seems to me that Gary is quite possibly the most depressing city in America. Despite having a population of just 100,000, it's consistently one of the top ten most dangerous cities in the country. I guess it's basically a big suburb of Chicago, with all the disadvantages of urban sprawl, but not any of the advantages of being urban. A prominent billboard announces that the people of Gary are currently "Celebrating 100 Years of Steel". Evidence of their love of steel, and assorted matters industrial, can be seen in the forest of smokestacks which populates a good part of the city. (I've been told that at night the fire and smog does a fair impression of the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie. This sounds pretty awesome, and I plan to make a return visit to see this first hand.) Between the smokestack forest and the endless sea of suburbia, Gary features a small lake, which some gentle soul has adorned with an abundance of metal platforms and spikes--these don't seem to fulfill any functional role, so they were probably put there purely for their aesthetic value, as they nicely complement the canopy of criss-crossing powerlines hanging over the lake.

So much for Gary. In some other town in Indiana (I forget the name), there are street signs that read "CHURCH". I don't mean signs put up by the churches, but street signs put up by the town (or county or whatever), like ones that announce "DEER CROSSING" or "SCHOOL ZONE", except instead of warning drivers about the presence of deer or school children, they warn about the presence of churches. This is hard for me to understand. Are they meant to be interpreted as "PASTOR CROSSING, SLOW DOWN", or "NO SINNING, NEXT MILE", or what?

So, parts of Indiana are kinda weird. But for the most part it looks just like Alberta.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dr. Dino gets rendered

Recreational creationism has been dealt a blow by The Man:
Kent Hovind, founder of Creation Science Evangelism and Dinosaur Adventure Land in Pensacola, was found guilty of 58 counts, including failure to pay $845,000 in employee-related taxes. He faces a maximum of 288 years in prison.

Jo Hovind was charged and convicted in 44 of the counts involving evading bank-reporting requirements. She faces up to 225 years in prison but was allowed to remain free pending the couple's sentencing on Jan. 9.
The defence:
Kent Hovind, whose life's mission is to debunk evolution, says he and his employees are workers of God and therefore exempt from paying taxes.
Wow. Among other things, one might wonder if Hovind ever bothered actually reading the bible:
Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?"

But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?"

They said to Him, "Caesar's."

Then He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's."
It's not exactly an obscure passage.

Then again, it just might be that Hovind rightly perceived this response which Jesus failed to anticipate in his argument. Imagine:
"Kent, show me the bill used for the tax. Whose likeness and inscription is this?"

"Well," Hovind replied, "that's a picture of Ben Franklin, but the inscription says 'God'."
Ha! Take that Jesus!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A poem

By Pablo Neruda (translated by Nathaniel Tarn):
I'm Explaining a Few Things

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?
I'll tell you all the news.

I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.

From there you could look out
over Castille's dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Remember, Raul?
Eh, Rafel? Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings --
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you'll ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!
Happy Remembrance Day.

(On this day about a decade ago, someone pointed out to me that In Flanders Field, a central symbol of Remembrance Day in Canada, doesn't do a very good job of symbolizing the right sort of remembrance. The first two stanzas are all right, but the third hits the wrong note:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Remembrance Day originated with Armistice, and thus marks the end of the quarrel with the foe. At least, that particular quarrel with that particular foe.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Driscoll: The Gay stops with Haggard

Via Jesus Politics, some thoughts by Mark Driscoll on the Ted Haggard spectacle. The post mostly consists of bits of practical advice on how men of the cloth can keep themselves from cheating on their spouses.

It occurs to me that there are a number of shots I could take here, but I've got reading and (other) writing to do, so I'll just briefly take the snarkiest shot that comes to mind.

In particular, let me call attention to Driscoll's implicit belief that The Gay stops with Haggard, and definitely doesn't exist elsewhere among his putatively straight and non-repressed fellow pastors, and most definitely nowhere around Driscoll personally. This is seen in the curious fact that the post starts by talking about Haggard, who was engaged in some sexual-or-quasi-sexual shenanigans with a gay prostitute, and then quietly shifts over to the topic of pastors (male pastors, naturally) having heterosexual affairs.

Why the change in topic? Does Driscoll not have any ideas on how pastors might improve their ability to resist the temptation to abandon sexual relations with their wives (who, as Driscoll explains, have probably "let themselves go") in favour of some hot man-on-Christian-man action?

In light of such questions, consider Driscoll's note that:
I have been blessed with a trustworthy heterosexual male assistant who can travel with me, meet with me, etc., without the fear of any temptations or even false allegations since we have beautiful wives and eight children between us.
I'm not sure how this is supposed to distinguish them from pre-scandal Haggard: decades into a heterosexual marriage, with 5 kids to show for it.

Alas, if only Haggard had had a truly trustworthy, "heterosexual" male assistant with whom to travel, meet, "etc.", his secret double-life would still be happily out of the media spotlight.


On a related note, there's a wave of anti-gay marriage action going on in the midterm election. Let us take this occasion to remind ourselves of the two leading theories on why (as I have heard more than one TV preacher state in no uncertain terms) gay marriage is The Number One Threat Facing Civilization As We Know It Today: the Octopus of Marriage theory and the Familion Decay theory.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

OMG, it burns!

Dawn drew my attention to the following claim from Spinoza's Ethics:
...when we look at the sun, we imagine it as about two hundred feet away from us...
And then my brain stopped working for a few minutes.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Say this three times fast

"pancake-shaped cables"