Tag Archives: January

Not Another Princess Movie: Why BRAVE Matters

I was very surprised and pleased by the Pixar film Brave. This article elegantly expresses why. How many good, fleshed-out mother-daughter narratives do we see?

Strange Figures

(Posted this at zekefilm.org earlier today.  Thought I’d share it with you all, too.)

I didn’t see Brave on many best-of-the-year lists, but it made mine. I’ve been watching children’s movies as a parent for over twenty years and Brave was not only one my favorite films this year, but I thought it was an important film; a movie that matters.

I have young daughters and like most little girls, they like princess movies. We’ve seen our share of Disney princess merchandise pass through the house, and I confess that the youngest daughter even got a Disney princess poster for Christmas last week. We’re also Pixar fans here, and it was exciting news when Pixar announced that it was releasing a film with a female lead – a first! This didn’t just grab our attention, but was heavily anticipated by feminist film critics who were thinking that after 17 years…

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well I have to deal with my fear of zombies somehow…

This is just a character sketch. It is not part of any work in progress, nor anything larger I am planning on writing at present. This piece has been around for at least four years, though it has been revised a few times since then. I thought I would share, as I like it.

For those who like to know, there is a little cussing in this piece.

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This image belongs Maryrose Roque on Stockvault.net

Alex lit a cigarette. The motion was almost subconscious now; almost, but not quite.  Once, smoking was just another bad habit. Now?  A cigarette was a reminder to keep breathing. He flicked a little ash into the red-glass tray on his table. Not even breathing was subconscious anymore.

“You do find the darkest corners, don’t you.”

Glancing up, he saw Geoffrey walking over to him.  The man was profoundly nondescript; nothing flashy, nothing memorable.  Rather than answer the rhetorical question, Alex mused on how much effort he must put into being invisible.

Geoffrey took a long look at him, then turned to the bar. When he came to the table again he was holding a couple of shot glasses and a clear bottle.  Without asking, he sat down and poured.  He added something extra to the drink he set by Alex, who decided that ignorance was bliss.

“I thought no drinking was allowed,” said Alex, taking another pull at his cigarette.  He wondered if secondhand smoke from his lungs would be better or worse for a bystander than smoke from the lungs of the living.

“You can have this one.  In fact, consider it coroner’s orders.”

Alex decided to smile a bit at that.  Smiling had become completely conscious, too.  At least that made keeping a deadpan effortless.  He took the drink and downed it.  There was no taste, but possibly burn.  That was something he had yet to figure out: how to process taste and touch.  Nerves spoke, but how did one understand them?

Geoffrey downed his own drink and winced. “Yick.”

Alex flicked more ash into the tray.  Now that there was someone to talk to, there was less need for a reminder to breathe.

“Am I needed for something?”

“Nah. I just got off work and sensed you were nearby.  Thought I’d check on you.”

Alex snorted softly. “‘Disturbance in the force?’”

“You’re a nerd under all that black-ops, aren’t you?” Geoffrey grinned.

“It’s hard to hide if you’re not versed in the culture.”

“Riiiight.”

Geoffrey reminded Alex of someone, but he could not remember who. “Look… I am grateful that you keep me in one piece, but if you join forces with Lucy in trying to make my… almost-life miserable, I will have to kill you.”

“Don’t say that. I’m not teaming up with Lucy.  I’m your friend, remember?  Whether you want one or not?”

“So you’ve said.”  Alex put out the cigarette.

“And unlike some, I mean what I say.”

“That’ll get you killed.”

“It hasn’t yet.”

Alex shrugged.

“So… are you planning to come home tonight or are you going to wander around again?  You know… if you keep doing this, someone around here is going to notice that you don’t sleep.”

“That will take a while.  They all sleep… and they all assume that I sleep when they’re asleep.”

“Not forever they won’t.  You at least need to make an effort and pretend.”

Geoffrey was right, as he was irritatingly often.  ‘Sleeping’ was miserable, though.  Staying in one place, doing nothing, feeling nothing.  It was like being a thought floating in space, completely alone.  Alex once believed he understood being alone.  He thought he had been alone for most of his life.  He had been wrong. Geoffrey was watching him. Alex snarled softly. “What?”

“Well… I can keep your body in one piece, but I can’t do a thing about your mind, and it’s that that has me worried.”

“Then why haven’t you tried sending me to a shrink?”

“You mean apart from the fact that you’d shoot me? Can’t say I know a shrink who could help you with this. Might be worth a try if you want one, though.”

“I don’t.”

“Shocking.”  Geoffrey looked at the bottle again, then sighed, poured himself another, and downed it. The face he pulled was comical. “Ughhh.”

“If you don’t like it, don’t drink it.”

“Good advice, that.”

“You’re stupid, for a Jap.”

“You’re racist, for a corpse.”

A soft chuckle sounded in Alex’s throat. His instincts whispered not to get attached. Geoffrey was unlikely to last long.  Why he had been assigned to the team was still something of a mystery. It couldn’t have been simply to keep him in one piece; that would be a waste of personnel.

“So, are you going to come home or do I send Lucy out to chase you back?”

“Do and I’ll shoot him.”

“Go right ahead.  He says it stings.  I bet he’d pout at you.”

“Fucking soup-monster.”

“Speciesist, too. Still, come back and I’ll keep him away from you.”

“’Home’ gives me the creeps.”

“Says the living dead. …why does…”

“People, normal people, are scary enough.” Alex toyed with the snuffed cigarette. “I’ve dealt with that kind of scary for a long time.  Freaks like the ones you work with though?  That adds a whole new dimension to scary.  I add a whole new dimension to scary.“

“If anyone should be freaked out it’s me,” replied Geoffrey, shrugging.

“It’s not as if you’re defenseless.”

“I might as well be.  Please, just… come back.  What do you have to lose?”

“Anything that’s left of my sanity.”  Alex considered for a moment, then nodded. “…Point well made.  I’ll come back.”

Geoffrey puffed out his cheeks in relief. “Good.  I was afraid I was going to have to tell our boss bad news on her first day. From what I’ve heard of her, that would not be a safe thing to do.”

“You drew the short straw, huh?”

“More like the ‘too polite’ straw. The consensus was that I would be the least likely to piss her off.”

“It’s a good test. If she will tear pieces out of you, then she really is heartless.”

“Thanks for the reassurance.”

“You’re welcome.”

Geoffrey stood up and straightened his blazer “Take the bottle back with you, but don’t drink the rest.”

“Coroner’s orders.”

“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” sighed Alex, lighting another cigarette.


Thanks

Thank You, Lord, for the rough country; for the times when my path is a struggle. Thank You for the blisters, bruised heel, and scrapes from my falls. Thank You for the travelers, of all kinds, around me. Thank You for enough food and water to live, but not so much that I forget to be glad of it.

Thank You for the still times, the easy walks after a hard climb, and the places that call me to rest, but never for long. I, like Frost, have miles to go before I sleep.

Thank You for letting me break, like shale dropping from a height. I thought it was me that would shatter, but I did not see the prison I had built around myself. Prison-breaking is painful, but until I was out, I never knew that Joy meant anything more than happiness. I did not know that Joy defies all circumstances and emotions. I did not know that it is transcendent. Strange, how You let us use the most simple words to describe things that we only begin to understand. Thank You for that as well, else how few words I would have!

Thank You for turning me out of myself, and for Your patience in doing so again and again, as I forget the lessons I have learned so many times. That is one reason for the rough of the road, perhaps. It makes me stumble, and reminds me where my eyes should be. You have more patience with me than I have with myself. Thank You.

Thank You, Yeshua, for the mysteries; the seeming-paradoxes that make us alive rather than existent. Thank you for Life. And most of all, thanks for Your presence on the road with me.


Tintin

I plan to ramble here. You have fair warning.

I seem to be one of relatively few U.S. citizens who grew up on Tintin. Not the tv series, but the books. For some reason, Tintin didn’t sweep this country as he did many others.

I never have been sure what it is about the stories that draws me in. Hergé somehow created adventures that were, on the surface, dead simple, unapologetically ridiculous, and addictive. He had a gift, and he worked very hard to share it. His gift comforted and inspired people during some of the darkest times in recent history, and continues to do so decades later. But if I wax too serious about Hergé’s work I will do it an injustice. It mocks my seriousness.

Papoose Snowy mocks my seriousness

Papoose Snowy mocks my seriousness

My brother and I used to joke that Tintin has a force-field just beneath his skin because bullets only ever graze him. My friend D, looking over my shoulder on occasion as I have been re-reading some of the books, commented on the fact that he gets hit over the head several times per story and yet he is not brain-dead. Though a pipsqueak, he has a killer punch and knows his way around firearms. He can operate any car, plane, boat, helicopter, tank, motorcycle or moon-rocket and seems to possess unlimited wealth. He sticks to his ethics, is often clever, always wins in the end, and his only vices are an intermittent lack of foresight, and being a nosy-parker.

In short, he is a Mary Sue.  I look at this list and I am amazed that I don’t hate Tintin.

But the fact is, I like him. Haddock and Snowy are my favorites, but the Great Ginger Detective is, without challenge, my favorite bland character of all time. I enjoy seeing him dash through his adventures and I am acutely aware that without him, the other characters would be whirling balls of plotless chaos. I can just see the tragic Adventure of Haddock and Snowy in the Distillery of Doom, and Calculus leading Thompson and Thomson off a cliff like a pair of lemmings.

Serious Captain is serious

Serious Captain is serious

Many stories have a bland central character, an eye of the storm that carries the plot forward, binds the more interesting characters together and acts as a blank screen onto which readers can project their own imaginations. Usually these characters annoy me or I am indifferent to them. So what is different about Tintin? Perhaps it is that Hergé refuses to take his main protagonist too seriously. Tintin is daring one moment, noble the next, and falls flat on his face a panel or two later.

But what I think is most disarming about Tintin is the honesty of his existence. He is a vehicle for the child-like desire for adventure and Hergé knew that and embraced it. Without that, Tintin would set my teeth on edge. With it, I laugh in delight when he takes control of a helicopter, or snaps an enemy’s rifle barrel with a single shot. Apparently, for me, honesty and humor are keys to making a Mary Sue acceptable.

There have been recent developments in the Tintin universe.

DUN Dun dun...

DUN Dun dun…

When I heard that Spielberg and Jackson were collaborating on a Tintin movie, I was worried. I had much the same fears when I heard of the making of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films. I wondered, once, how film could do justice to Tolkien and I found myself wondering the same of Hergé’s work. There was a different challenge to creating a Tintin film, too. With LotR, Jackson was up against the imagination of Tolkien’s readers. For the most part, I feel that he met that challenge. With Tintin, he and Spielberg were up against deceptively simplistic and dynamic art that has been iconic for decades.

When I saw the trailers to the new Tintin film, I was even more worried. The animation style looked weird, and the humor just off enough that it might grate on me.

I am happy to say, though, that I thoroughly enjoyed “the Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn”. The credits at the beginning showed me that the directors and animators had paid attention. They translated the energetic poses of the comics into motion with panache. The mannerisms of the cast were right, their voices did not irritate me and the mix of fast-paced adventure, silly humor and coshing people on the head were right out of the books.

Purists will complain, but oh well. I complained about details from Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings,” but I love the films anyway and own the extended versions. I have a suspicion that there will be an extended version of  “the Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn” (they need to explain that tank…) and if so, that will one day grace my shelf of films as well.

There are a few things that were not quite right, in my opinion. Something was off about the twins, or maybe I should say that something was more off than usual about them. The captain’s eyes were a bit too piggy. The tank… And I have to wonder what they are going to do in the sequel as they’ve already used the plot twist from the third book. These are all very minor, though, and as with Lord of the Rings, the changes made to the plot all seemed reasonable if not necessary.

I hope that Jackson and Spielberg will do as fine a job on the next one

Iconoclast!… troglodyte!… fresh-water pirate!… slubberdegullion!… mountebank!… nyctalope!… steam-roller!… sea-gherkin!… cannibal! (Seriously, we could learn so much about “swearing” from the good captain and vastly improve our vocabularies all the while.)


Echo in my soul

I never know when my soul will sing, nor always why it does.

The feeling is one of contradiction. It calls for weeping and laughter mingled. Bittersweet is not the right word, as there is no bitterness in it. Perhaps “sharp-sweet” will do.

One thing is clear. When my soul sings, it invariably sings to its Maker. That may be the reason for the sharp and the sweet, as lifting its voice to God requires my soul to look upon what it cannot apprehend. It is the spiritual equivalent of stretching muscles.

My soul is stretching.

Another image comes to mind, repugnant to some, but not to me, as I like the legless silken creatures. A snake, when it grows, seeks release from the bonds of its old skin. For the freedom to grow, it must break out of itself. I am constantly needing to break out of myself. Every time I  break, I grow. Every time I break my freedom increases.

Whether my soul sings desire, strength or Joy, or all co-mingled with many other songs,  it always has the same effect on me. I am full to overflowing, and I must either raise my own voice in song, or find means of praise in other ways.

Thankfully, there are as many ways to praise God as there are hearts that desire to do so. Living, itself, can be an act of praise. Of course, it does me good to literally lift my voice as often as I can.

My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation!
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds and echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night He giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it.
This peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever-springing.
All things are mine, since I am His.
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

(lyrics attributed to Pauline T. and Doris Plenn)


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