course of action

I don’t relish violence. I find the concept of men spending all their energy trying to kill each other nauseating. Yet I find pacifism more inhuman and cold than all the arms races and MAD in history. It is human to defend your family or loved ones if those precious few are attacked. Given the choice, I believe most people would kill to keep those loved ones alive. It’s not about what you want or what you are most comfortable doing. It’s a question of doing what is morally necessary.
In the sixties and seventies, there were huge war protests and much upright condemnation of our actions in Vietnam. Songwriters poured out their frustration at our foreign policy in their lyrics, from the poetically vengeful:
"And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead"
To the straight up ridiculous:
"(C'mon)Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
Minister, Sinister, Banisters and Canisters,
Bishops, Fishops, Rabbis, and Pop Eyes,
Bye bye, Bye byes
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance"
I don’t believe for a minute that Lennon or Dylan were interested in America’s withdrawal from Vietnam in order to aid the spread of Communism, although that has been offered as an explanation of their songs to me several times. I think it had more to do with a misplaced and poorly thought out sense of righteousness, a belief that if America stopped fighting, stopped killing, that some kind of peace would emerge. The horrifying side of pacifism is that it only appeals to decent people; that if it takes hold the good people will do nothing and evil will freely reign over the weak. The peace that Lennon and Dylan advocated was a Neville Chamberlin style situation where peace means we can turn our heads, look away, and really believe everything will be alright. The minstrels of the sixties inculcated their obsessive desire to avoid reality into the na├»ve youth of America, penetrating the fog of their drug induced stupor long enough to pound a message into their brains. War is not the answer. But what is the answer? To stand by and watch as millions perish because taking up arms to protect them would further the cause of violence? The true brutality of pacifism is its preoccupation with the self, with ensuring that everything stays comfortable. Seeing the numbers of the dead read off the TV at night was too hard for men like Dylan to handle, and in their anger they condemned the people who were running the war badly, not the men who were causing it. Dylan said
“Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do”
It makes me wonder. Dylan and people like him were a major factor in our withdrawal from Vietnam. If Dylan had seen the legions of Vietnam’s refugees, the “boat people”, who came drifting across the water without hope or purpose, lost souls in a world that took their families and their homes--maybe he would have said that to himself.



I can't recall if I've posted this before, but if you haven't played these, you ought to.


Hellboy II

Hellboy II was a bit different than I'd expected. I'd expected more of the first movie, which would have been nothing but a good thing. The Golden Army, however, took on a different tone, with mixed results. Its dialogue was sharper and lighter, assumedly because the characters had already been established, but I felt it lost Hellboy's blue-collar, world-weary attitude that made him so likeable. The snappy pacing and banter felt like the film was trying to be sleeker and more accesible, more like the mainstream Spiderman or Iron Man films, something it in no way needed to do. The heavy, oppresive, Lovecraftian tone of the Hellboy I was something that distinguished it, and while the Folklore side of the Hellboy world was something that's entirely fair game for a movie (I'm glad, in fact, that it moved in this direction) I felt the spirit of the Hellboy books had been violated in a way the first movie did not. The Golden Army just felt too light.
Even in the Hellboy's folklorish adventures, he's taking on entities like Baba Yaga (who is scary) a cursed family of eastern European werewolves, or ramapaging, megalomaniacal homunculi. They're strange, dark, and otherworldly, and their humor comes from Hellboy's unfazed attitude and straightforward sense of right and wrong. Not that the new movie did not have some of these elements, it simply didn't do them as well.
Also, The Golden Army feels more like a superhero team movie, like X-men, especialy with the addition of the ectoplasmic Johannes Krauss, than the continued adventures of the red, loveable, Beast of the Apocalypse. B.P.R.D., an excelent spinoff title from Hellboy, is a team comic, Hellboy is not. It felt like Del Toro was beginning to lean in that direction.
All those things being said, I still recommend the movie. Del Toro's fantastic imagination is on full display once again, and some of the movie's set peices like the Angel of Death, or the Miyazakian forest god, are worth the price of admission alone. The sheer exuberance and creativity demonstrated gives me real hope for the future of fantasy films, especially the commitment to old-school prosthectics and physical effects, which, let's face it, still look better than CGI. Several days after seeing the movie, I want to go see it again, which is probably the truest measure of my real feelings towards it.
Rating: B+


Look what I did!

I changed the layout all by myself, yes I did. I think the picture is either the personification of the blog in the act of informing the world, or it's Me/Sophie trying to get Ben to post something.


Fairie and Falsehood

Chesterton once famously said, “Not facts first, truth first.”

This is the essence of fairy stories. Based on fact, imbued with truth, they are a child’s bedtime Sunday school. Whether or not you think unicorns or griffins ever existed, the lessons we learn from true fairy stories are as real as can be. Because a real fairy story has to have definite morals, clear representation of good and evil, and rules that must be followed, I believe Guillermo del Torro’s Pan’s Labyrinth was a failure. Its antithesis is M. Night Shyamalan’s perfect fairy story, Lady in the Water. The chief difference to me is the beautiful innocence of Lady in the Water as compared to the total lack of it in Pan’s Labyrinth. Story flees from those who would harm her; Ofelia, trying to escape from her father, doesn’t just put enough sleeping drug in his drink to knock him out. She puts in what should be enough to kill a cart horse. The good guys in Lady in the Water are genuinely likable. They unite to save Story, putting aside personal convenience and differences. Meanwhile, back in Pan’s Labyrinth, del Torro presents us with a band of Communists hiding in the woods plus Ofelia (unless you count Ofelia’s mom, who is essentially a non character). These guys heroically euthanize their comrades and don’t kill their enemies…they just torture and mutilate them. Lady in the Water is all about following the rules; the climax of trying to get Story home involves the characters discovering their roles in her survival and fulfilling them. Ofelia breaks the rules in the Guy-With-Eyes-On-His-Hands house, but escapes. The consequences of this misdemeanor turn out to be no consequences at all, since Pan doesn’t desert her for good, like she was told. It was more like five minutes. And of course, one of the worst things about Pan’s Labyrinth for me was that the whole fantasy was in Ofelia’s head. None of the magical kingdom was real. She sees it all one last time while lies dying…then she’s back on the cold hard ground and breathes her last. In Lady and the Water everything was real. There was no death of the child; rather, Cleveland must become like a child to hear the rest of the story, and the veteran says at the end “I wanted to be a child again.” Then there’s the overall message. The only thing I could really pick up from Pan’s Labyrinth was that “life is pain.” Funny quote when it’s made by a guy talking to the love of his life while dressed up as a pirate; there, the irony is that he’s about to make all her pain go away. In Pan’s Labyrinth, we have one dead mother, one dead little girl, one fake world where everything’s interesting and magical, one real world where the people you care about die, one evil father who is nonetheless shot dead in cold blood, and one baby in possession of a supposedly good maid who has a suspiciously sadistic side. On the other hand, with Lady in the Water, life has meaning. “Every living being has a purpose,” Story tells Cleveland. The man who was a doctor wasn’t supposed to be a building superintendent. This is made clear all through the movie, as he is late to fix the plumbing, can’t fix the sprinklers, keeps getting calls from a lady complaining of the smell upstairs, and fixes the light bulb above Vick’s desk weeks after being asked to do it. We see rusty handrails, grass overgrowing the courtyard, and other signs of neglect and decay. Only when he accepts his role as Healer is Cleveland able to ask forgiveness from the family he wasn’t there to protect, and go back to doing what he was born to do. He thanks Story for saving his life: she saved him because he saved her. I feel like Lady in the Water wasn’t received well due in part at least to the fact that our world’s nature is steadily growing more jaded and cynical. If you’ve outgrown fairy stories, then of course Lady in the Water seems a bit much, what with the strange names, the improbable creatures, and unworldly plot. However, if you’ve outgrown fairy stories, you’ve mistaken what is childlike for what is childish, which is exactly the mistake so many make when viewing Lady in the Water.

“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”


oh, and this stuff over here...

SOOooooo....anyone interested that we hauled 550 metric tons of yellowcake uranium out of Iraq? Apparently we shipped it to Canada, where it will not be used to manufacture weapons; the energy will be used instead for such peaceful purposes as producing Celine Dion's Christmas album. As Mark Steyn put it: "Wouldn't it be lovely if we could solve all world problems this way...just pick them up and store them in Canada." I just want to know why Bush doesn't defend himself more. I realize he's going more the "justified by history" route, but this needs to be covered! The WMD's that didn't exist were just removed from Iraq. Given Saddam's personality, I think that much yellowcake makes sense of invasion.

couldn't resist

I didn't come up with this, but it's been making me laugh for a few days. "Seen outside a funeral home: 'Keep Driving...we'll wait." Of course, if you actually saw that, it might be more terrifying than humorous.



I know it's not really commonplace to write reviews of reviews of movies, but in this case I feel compelled. The review in quesiton: "Windy", penned by one Ross Douthat, of National Review. I'm not sure if he writes regularly for NR, but I do know one thing about him. He needs a good head soaking. "Windy" was a childish and painfully comical review of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, which some of my more loyal readers may recall left me shaken and unhappy. That being said, I am still able to acknowledge the film's power and poignance, and put it up with all of M. Night's other films. I.e., pretty high. Of course, I saw where the review was going from the first sorry sentence: "For the world's dwindling band of M. Night Shyamalan admirers--a group in which I still count myself, thought increasingly reluctanctly--the best case scenario for his latest film, The Happening, was that it would represent a return to form after his disastrous previous effort, Lady in the Water." Depending on your natural disposition, this sentence could be either humorous or infuriating. For me it was a slight combination. Funny enough to make me think "Who is this guy, and why is he reviewing films?" and irritating enough to make me blog about it. Mr. Douthat (whoever he may be) went on to do exactly what I thought might follow: languish in fits of literary self righteous (and remarkably self confidant) agony at what he found to be a sub par horror film. Yes. The Happening was nothing more than a badly written, badly produced, badly made horror film. Which of course, wasn't that scary "the only thing that's scary about it is the fact that three talented actors--Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, and John Leguizamo--actually thought appearing in this fiasco would be a good career move." For a guy who goes great lengths to criticize Shyamalan's big head, he seems to have ignored his own ego trip pretty blithely. I wonder if it ever crossed his mind that actors might have motives other than money and fame when it comes to the work they choose to do. I wonder if he ever gave a thought to the concept that some actors might choose to be in movies they feel are a step above the rest. Somehow, I doubt these thoughts ever made an appearance in the vortex of this man's cogitations. His review is that of a man who goes to the talkies to be entertained, and doesn't mind a brain teaser while you're at it--just make sure that it's all spelled out in black and white by the credits. Go to a film to think? Why? Isn't that an oxymoron? I don't know quite how to address people who went to Unbreakable because they were in the mood for a superhero movie, to Signs for an alien flick, or The Village for a period piece. These same people (and I suppose this specimen) would naturally view The Happening as a horror film and take only what was on the surface away with them. I realize the comparison is a bit extreme, but to me trying to draw some equivalent between The Happening and The Birds is akin to comparing Crime and Punishment to one of Jack Chick's comic book morality tracts. I can't say for sure how Mr. Douthat missed the significance of Zooey Deschanel's character's name, the stops Elliot and his family made on the way (what Douthat terms the "hilarious" run from the wind), or the circumstances under which The Event ended. I know that I don't always understand the great poetry of T.S. Eliot, or the classic literature of Flannery O'Connor. But at least I have the good grace to admit it before trying to turn it into a laughingstock instead of me. "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."


Sore throat

It's my experience that minor ailments are among the most demoralizing things God ever came up with. (I ended that sentence with a preposition! ---!) People will feel sorry for you if you have influenza, and indeed you are justified in feeling a bit of pity for yourself; but if you have a sore throat, there is only the slight smile and nod, indication being "Buck up, worse may yet come." Unfortunately, I would rather be very ill than have a nagging sore throat. Also, I would rather have a serious slash in my arm than a paper cut. The little things always get to me.