Friday, November 30, 2007

Beowulf Rant

Okay, today was the last day of class, so I decided to reward myself before the torrent of papers comes in on Monday by giving myself a night out. First stop Borders, to pick up a copy of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Tower. Reading for pleasure, I have a vague recollection of what that was like. Then, on to Beowulf.

As I had indicated to some friends, I was mildly curious and went expecting to like it for two reasons. One, I'm a non-reformed contrarian. If the majority of the evangelical press and subculture hate it, I'm bound to like it just to tweak their noses. Second, unlike, say, LOTR, I have no real emotional attachment to the source material, so I'm not likely to be offended by changes.

It took me, sadly, about five minutes to realize that this film was a colossal series of blunders, the last of which was my blundering into the theater to see it.




I'm stunned speechless. Pardon me while I try to think of how to express the inexpressible badness of this film...

Okay, I'm back.

I thought (honestly) of two analogies while I was watching Beowulf. The first was, to be perfectly honest, Left Behind. Beowulf shares with Left Behind a sort of zenith of badness. It is, what Slacktivist calls "instructionally bad"--that is bad in such a way that it is actually an object lesson in how to be bad, an almost perfect Platonic example of badness. The other analogy that I had was that my response was something akin to what English teachers sometimes feel when they receive one of those rare train wreck papers. You know the ones I'm talking about...the ones where "F" just isn't quite sufficient to express their failure...the ones with total system failure....where the grammar is bad, the documentation is haphazard, where you can't find the hint of the whiff of the scent of an idea, where it's not just disorganized but incoherent, and where the smiling student asks you to read it over (the day before the paper is due) to make sure she hasn't missed any tiny points that might keep her from getting the "A" on which she is counting...

In poker lingo...they call this going on "tilt"...a Mike Matusow meltdown. This is 2oo7 New York Mets territory here...a once in a lifetime perfect storm of bad decisions, bad luck, and bad execution punctuated almost exclusively by brain farts.

Better, more educated men than me have documented some of the content problems...some of the ways that the film not only misunderstands and misrepresents its source material, but does so needlessly and (bigger sin here) pointlessly. It is not as though they are subverting some Christian or humanistic or epic message to replace it with something else, because there is just no real consistent view of what makes Beowulf heroic or different from anyone else other than he happens to share his name with the title of the movie.

No, let me focus on a point that I haven't yet heard mentioned in the jeers and catcalls about content....

The movie looks like crap

I really, really, really, cannot overemphasize this point. I might be willing to forgive the ideological or literary rape of the source material if it were in the service of an alternative idea or philosophy or even in the service of an entertaining spectacle, but, alas....

The movie, really, really, looks like crap.

The animation here, mostly rendered in a style to make it accessible to 3D is totally and completely wrong. Was I the only person in America who kept looking at the seat next to him to see if the other guy in the audience was holding a joystick? Because, I swear, it felt like I was watching someone play a video game, not watching a movie...and, even in comparison to contemporary video game standards, the graphics looked like crap...closer to Grand Theft Auto than Halo3, if you know what I mean. (With the exception, of course, of Angelina Jolie's breasts which were lovingly and carefully rendered to have depth, curve and musculature rather than just lines to suggest the same. How the hell this movie got a PG-13 is beyond me, and I like to think of myself as the least prudish evangelical in America.) Anyway, there is a rotoscoped feel to the herky-jerky movements that make the exchanges plastic, wooden and two dimensional but is supplemented with computer enhanced detail in all the wrong places. Thus you can count the hairs on Wulfgar's beard but Beowulf never changes expression. Really, a half-hour spent with the Simpsons animators would have gone a long way for Zemeckis and company in learning how minimal changes in simple animation in conjunction with vocal performance can convey a broad range of emotion. Stack the set design up against 300 (another anachronistic and lurid retelling of source material that is sick in both senses of the word [as an insult and as a compliment]) and you see how bare is the vision of the world here. Zemeckis and Gaiman are clearly infatuated with some of the ideas expressed in Beowulf and expressed through Beowulf, but (I really can't emphasize this enough) film is primarily a visual medium and abstractions don't film well..and the narrative through which the ideas are supposed to be conveyed LOOKS LIKE CRAP!

I will admit, that I have friends who are much more tolerant of expressionism in film than I am. Amongst my cinematic friends, I refer to myself unapologetically as the narrative whore. So I will cop to the fact that seldom is being visually interesting sufficient to engage me in a film. Oh, the last five minutes of 2001 looks trippy and all (even if you're not stoned), and In Memory of Myself looks gothic and operatic and is cool even if you don't know what the hell is going on most of the time...but truth to be told I get a little bored by Fantasia or Mary Poppins or even (it pains me to say it) parts of A Clockwork Orange...where the visuals so overpower the narrative that the medium becomes the message itself. It's not that I need's that I want a sensible meshing of style with content. The Man Who Planted Trees is both minimal and expressionistic, but the simple, pencil drawings are perfect for conveying the starkness and emptiness of the landscape that is gradually and subtly transformed by Eleazar Bouffier's faithfulness. Pan's Labyrinth and Blade Runner both have power enhanced by expressionistic set design that creates a real world in which real people (and replicants) can interact rather than just being sets to look at without a story (e.g. Jeneut's Alien Ressurection or Lucas's Phantom Menace). The last time I saw such a poor marriage of style and content was Michael Wigglesworth's "The Day of Doom" (trying to do the last judgment in nursery rhyme form, really...argh).

I could go on and on...the naked battle was ironically and unintentionally reminiscent of Austin Powers in all the wrong ways. Mike Myers has made it impossible to cleverly hide the male sex organ and that device has already passed the genre cycle of parody (in The Simpsons Movie) to the point where it is experienced, instinctively as cliche or parody, not as can't be taken seriously by this audience at this time. The dialogue is just wincingly bad...I actually got some dirty looks from a few people in the theater for inappropriate laughter...

"You honor me."
"No it is you who honor me; it is I who am you...who am honoring me...because I am Beowulf!...and I have come to kill your monster! Your monster will be killed by me, Beowulf. After which we will drink mead...or maybe any regards, there will be mead drinking and monster killing at some point because I am...umm...who am I again...oh yeah, Beowulf...and you are Unferth and you are hot chick that I'd like to sleep with after I kill the monster and drink the mead and am honored by you for doing the same...."

Oh, the scene where Jolie grabs Beowulf's erect Hrunting...and it...ummm...splurbs onto the floor into a pool of liquid was, quite possibly the biggest belly laugh I've had at the movies since Derek Zoolander said "You can read minds?"

The latter, at least, was intentionally stupid.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Emma (44-48)--"There can be no doubt of its being written for you..."

Chapter Nine of Volume I begins with Emma and Harriet collecting riddles and provides Jane Austen with an opportunity for reiterating certain points about her characters while also exercising her comedic abilities. The central point of humor is Emma's misreading of the riddle (twice) that Elton provides and thus concluding that there can be "no doubt" of a conclusion that is, in fact, quite wrong. This echoes Emma's assertion from the last chapter that it is "indubitable" (to her) that Harriet is a gentleman's daughter.

I don't think it is coincidental that Emma's increasing assurance in the doubtlessness of her own beliefs is combined with the evil of her situation (from chapter one) of having too much her own way. This chapter begins with an irksome reminder that "Mr. Knightley might quarrel with her, but Emma could not quarrel with herself" (44). This sentence is wonderfully ambiguous, meaning on the surface that Emma is increasingly satisfied by the results of her decision but also hinting that Emma on a more fundamental level cannot quarrel with herself...that is, lacks the ability, maturity, or strength of character to quarrel with herself.

"Quarrel" too is a very interesting word choice. Unlike "argue" or "reason" that would suggest a more rational basis, "quarrel" suggests something more active, more relational. It suggests that what Emma is not capable of is leaving a dispute or question open or unresolved, which is quite different from not being able to weigh the pros and cons of a decision before making one. Emma has some capacity for the former. She is not, for example, trying to set up Harriet willy-nilly with just anyone, and her reasons for not influencing Harriet to reject Robert Martin, while selfish, are born in some fact. What she appears less capable of is, having made a decision, holding that decision open to examination.

It is a strange and sad paradox that this quality can develop most strongly in people who are in positions of authority or influence. I can think of a fair number of teachers or scholars who begin open to dialog or insights from others who gradually, through the experience of always having their positions endorsed by students and seldom having their opinions differentiated from their knowledge, develop a sort of reflexive assumption of their own correctness and who cannot bear to quarrel. Many remain willing to argue--the difference being that in some dictionaries a quarrel implies a disagreement between previously friendly parties or relations, while an argument implies an adversarial relationship to begin with.

There is political and social and moral point to be made in that distinction that Austen underscores with her description. Those who are used to getting their own way too often determine who is friendly to them by who agrees with them and tend to see the world in dichotomous terms--those (friendly) who agree with them and those (adversarial) with whom they argue. A quarrel then, an argument from friendly quarters, not only disrupts the comfort of one's social challenges their underlying assumptions about the propriety of the deference they usually receive. Is it any wonder then that Emma "was sorry, but could not repent" (44)? To repent is to win back the friendly relationship at the cost of surrendering the privilege of being the final arbiter of what is right 1.

Regarding the riddle itself...

There is a school of reader-response criticism that is particularly interested in examples of or depictions of reading within the text. The argument goes that by showing a character reading and showing the results of their interpretation, the author or narrator sets his own readers a positive or negative role model for how to read the text they have been given. Jane Austen is rich source for this school of criticism because her texts are filled with readings of letters, books, and, in this case, riddles.

What sort of reader is Emma, then? Well not a very good one, and through her examples of misreading, we may get some hints as to how to avoid misreading Emma.

First of all, she is not an industrious or practiced reader: "Her views of improving her little friend's mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, had never yet led to more than few first chapters, and the intention of going on to-morrow. It was much easier to chat than to study; much pleasanter to let her imagination range and work at Harriet's fortune, than to be laboring to enlarge her comprehension or exercise it on sober facts" (44). Remember Emma's response to reading the Robert Martin proposal? She jumps to a conclusion after the very first parts and let's her imagination range (the sisters must have written it) rather than focus on sober facts (it was a better letter than she supposed). Austen may too be reminding us that we are in the very early chapters of our own book, and if we let our imaginations range we may very well misread the situation as badly as Emma does.

I think this point is underscored by an odd feature of this chapter, which is that Emma works through the riddle twice. It would be easy enough having given the answer-- ("Very well, Mr. Elton, very well indeed. I have read worse charades. Courtship--a very good hint.)--to say something like "and she very quickly led Harriet to the answer already intimated" or something like. Instead we get Harriet's comic misreadings and Emma step by step taking her through it. Part of the reason for this is surely just comic relief. Another must be to contrast the ease with which Emma gets the answer with the difficulty Harriet has in order to reinforce that Harriet is really at Emma's mercy. From a reader-response point, though, a third reason might be to show how, when we have jumped to a conclusion, we often too quickly dismiss contrary hints or evidence. "Thy ready wit the word will soon supply" is followed by: "Humph!--Harriet's ready wit! A man must be very much in love indeed, to describe her so" (46). The absolute conviction born from the unwillingness to hear contradictory arguments from friends and ease with which we dismiss contradictory evidence on our own leads to Emma to act prematurely. Harriet longs to speak but instinctively, even in her unrefined ignorance, does not. Emma is bold to declare intentions without a "moment's doubt" (48).

There is a satisfaction in seeing people who are so sure of themselves proved wrong and brought low. Were embarrassment for Emma the only result of her false certainty, her being stuck in it might not be an evil. As is so often the case, though, others pay the price when those in positions of power or influence act rashly based on an indubitable certainty which turns out to be only a mix of opinion, wishful thinking, and habit.

If there is a softening of our judgment of Emma's conduct here, it should probably come, once again, from the revelation of her motives, which are both pathos laden and, I think, still unconscious to her: "This is a connection which offers nothing but good. It will give you everything that you want--consideration, independence, a proper home--it will fix you in the centre of all your real friends..." (48). Is Emma describing Harriet's deepest desires or her own? Emma's goodness lies in the fact that she is a generous soul. She genuinely wants good for her friend. Her lack of development, though, makes it hard for her to imagine or understand that not everyone is her and so not everyone might want the things she wants or see their fruition (or denial) in the same circumstances. It is precisely the ability to make such distinctions that allows Elizabeth Bennet to maintain charitable feelings towards Charlotte Lucas after she accepts Mr. Collins's proposal of marriage in Pride and Prejudice.

Sometimes the golden rule doesn't mean treating others the way you would want to be treated but treating others the way they wish to be treated even if what they wish for themselves is not what you wish for yourself or would wish for them.

1Even if he or she is not admitting error, even if he or she is not wrong about the point of contention, to repent is to admit that one has failed a standard set by another (even if that other is God and not the person to whom the person is expressing their repentance) and that one accepts, in some way, a subordinate position to that other.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Emma (36-44)--"That she is a gentleman's daughter is indubitable to me."

There are two major confrontations between Emma and Knightley in Book I. The first occurs here, over Harriet's refusal of Robert Martin. The second finishes Book I and is about the conspicuous absence of Frank Churchill.

The comic structure of Emma comes from her repeated misjudgments, called in advance (or at the moment) by Knightley and the increasing gap between Emma's perception of herself as a better judge than Knightley and the evidence. We are told, for instance, that "it was most convenient to Emma not to make a direct reply" (40); that "Emma made no answer, and tried to look cheerfully unconcerned, but was really feeling uncomfortable and wanting him very much to be gone" (42); that "Emma remained in a state of vexation" (42); and that "he had frightened her a little about Mr. Elton" (41). In other words, Emma's conscience indicts her even where her rhetorical skills force a draw. Or rather, her refusal to admit contradiction ("there can be no use in canvassing it" [41]) leaves him with the alternatives of laying bare her contradictions--she is "far from allowing" (38) that she wrote Harriet's answer but then admits but then admits she influenced Harriet "a little" (41)--or accepting her good intentions ("there was very little for me or for anybody to do" (41).

Of course this is what is called in logic as a false dilemma or an A/B fallacy. It is quite possible that Emma could have good intentions (though the previous chapter makes us doubt that her primary concern was for Harriet's well being and not her own loneliness) and nevertheless be wrong as to the application of them. The question of good intentions is a good fall back for the weaker debater, though, because it is extremely hard to falsify. Knightley can (and does) say that Emma has been no friend to Harriet Smith, meaning that her actions will not promote Harriet's well being. Emma's definition of friendship is that of a state of feeling. [Ironically, at Box Hill, Knightley will insist that he is serving the office of a friend in hurting Emma, suggesting that it is at times when we are most insecure of our motives that we insist on their purity, rather than our own success, being the mark of our authenticity.]

This argument goes on for a bit, and there is a weird sort of cold war quality to it, as there is to many of Emma's and Knightley's interactions. By that I mean that through most of the book, conflicts between people are rarely played out between them directly. The lives of others, and their interaction with these others, becomes the ideological battleground on which central arguments are played out. In some cases secrets and power discrepancies prevent direct confrontations from taking place (such as with Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill), but at others, such as the ball where Elton snubs Harriet (to hurt Emma) and Knightley dances with Harriet (to please Emma), Harriet serves as Highbury's own little Vietnam.

This may sound too harsh towards Knightley. The standard approach to this passage is that Emma's immaturity fails to bow before his superior logical and insight. It is worth noting, though, that Knightley confirms that Harriet's leaving Highbury would be a loss to Emma (39), but one that Emma would gladly give up. Emma responds, "I cannot help wondering at your knowing so little of Emma as to say any such thing" (39). The retreat to the third person here is odd, and it is perhaps telling that this is the first poitn that Emma picks up in contention. To be sure, Emma's explanation is that she disagrees with Knightley's contention that this is "a good match" but this statement is doubly, unconsciously ironic given Knightley's claim that "you would not regret your friend's leaving Highbury" (39).

It is also customary in discussing this chapter to contrast Knightley's budding egalitarianism (evidenced by Knightley's praise of Robert Martin's "sense") with Emma's residual class prejudice (in claiming that the Martin's are beneath her and even her friend). The question of class prejudice is a tricky one in Emma. It is clear that the Martins act in marked contrast to the Eltons, especially, and that they often act the part of the gentry even while the gentry are acting crassly, materialistically, shallowly, and superficially. On the other hand, Emma and Knightley never question the appropriateness of their own place at the top of the social pecking order. To be sure, they accept the burdens of noblesse oblige more graciously than the Eltons, and are always free with a carriage for Miss Bates or some meat for a poor local family. For all Martin's independence, Knightley seems to like him most for his deference to him. That Martin opens his life to him--that he can still interact with a pleasant acquaintance despite of class differences while Emma cannot--may play a material part in Knightley's estimation of Martin's conduct and willingness to live with prospective changes.

This chapter also provides examples of Emma's budding psychosis.

Okay, that's a strong word, but consider this assertion from Emma about Harriet's claims in society:

As to the circumstances of her birth, though in a legal sense she may be called Nobody, it will not hold in a common sense. She is not to pay for the offence of others, by being held below the level of those with whom she is brought up--There can scarcely be a doubt that her father is a gentleman--and a gentleman of fortune.--Her allowance is very liberal; nothing has ever been grudged for her improvement or comfort.--That she is a gentleman's daughter, is indubitable to me; that she associates with gentlemen's daughters, no one, I apprehend, will deny.--She is superior to Robert Martin. (39)

What is Emma's evidence that Robert Martin is inferior to Harriet? It is clear to Emma. Her allowance is liberal. She associates with gentelmen's daughters. Well, the latter is actually a bit of a stretch in its use of the plural. Harriet associates with one gentleman's daughter--Emma. Harriet is superior to Robert Martin because Emma declares her to be so, and Emma believes she can bend social rules to her will, that by acting as though a thing is so, she will make it so.

Then again, Knightley asserts, "Robert Martin has no great loss--if he can but think so" (42). The irony of this juxtaposition is that in a patriarchal society, assertion is often sufficient for those of power or privilege to carry the day, and Emma is only really trying to act in reference to Harriet as men in her circle act all the time. Her father can declare a light snowfall a blizzard and his word is sufficient to make it so. Frank Churchill can declare a haircut sufficient reason to go to London and nobody (excepting another man) will contradict him. Elton can declare Emma's amateur painting worthy of a frame and a place of honor, and thus it is. It may be that Emma's delusion is not so much that she thinks she is particular but that she thinks she is not, not so much that she thinks that as an individual she can do what others cannot (bend reality to her will) but that as a woman she thinks she can do what others can (make pronouncements that others have to live with).

More on Kiva

Today I received an e-mail that the person who received my funds from a Kiva micro-loan began to repay it. Once the loan is repaid, the money is funded to the lender who can take it back or loan it to another party.

It was and is an odd feeling to have work used for "charity" paid back, and I confess that one thing that appeals to me about the Kiva model is that there does seem to be something about enabling a person to make their living (rather than simply giving him or her a daily portion) that ennobles the recipient.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Festival Awards

I have not seen the new film Bella, but just about every site or blog has picked up the talking point that it won an award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

A word on these awards. Most of them are tabulated through slips of paper given to the viewers who can then drop them off (or not) in boxes outside the theater doors.

In two years, I have never voted.

One friend who attends told me he'll vote if it is an independent film that won't otherwise get backing.

Of course, this format also means that results of such polls depend on the day of the screening(s), the theater (some festival auditoriums hold substantially more patrons than others) and the rate of return.

A single viewer who was so inclined could influence voting by collecting ballots from indifferent voters, and a single usher who is more or less pushy could also effect the outcome.

All of which is to say, the next time you hear an advertisement about an audience award at a festival, take it with a grain of salt.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Emma (31-35)--"Now I am Secure of You Forever"

Ask a hundred casual Austen readers where Emma is at her worst, and I imagine over ninety of them would probably say, "Box Hill--when she insults Miss Bates."

Given that Austen readers tend to be a polite bunch, perhaps only eight-five of them or so would add, "Duh!"

Emma is a novel about moral education, transformation, and growth, though. Suggesting she is at her worst right before she is at her best misunderstands the nature of moral transformation in a way that creates all sorts of critical problems: Why would we think the latest transformation will stick? Is Emma sorry at the harm she has caused or the pain she feels in Knightley's rebuke? Is the damage done to Miss Bates objectively or quantifiably worse than the damage to Harriet?

There are ways, I suppose, one can sidestep these questions. Harriet, we might argue is complicit to a greater degree in her victimization than Miss Bates. Perhaps. Knightley argues that it was the evidence of a corrupting influence that gets him to speak. Certainly. Though that doesn't necessarily mean that he objectively thinks the treatment of Miss Bates is worse than anything Emma's ever done. Often it is the case that we can forgive larger transgressions in friends or loved ones--confident that they are chagrined or feel the pain of their errors--but have a harder time forgiving smaller or more frequent slights.

Reading the novel as a slow devolution of Emma's character leads one--falsely I hope--to the conclusion that the patriarchal intercession of Knightley is instrumental to Emma's happiness and the happy ending. I would like to argue that the effectiveness of Knightley's rebuke lies as much in its timing--Emma's own development has brought her to the point where she has ears to hear--than his power. But I get ahead of myself.

In Chapter Seven of Volume I, Emma talks Harriet out of accepting a proposal from Robert Martin. That Emma does so in such a way that Harriet is unaware that she has done so--or why--is a source of some humor. The finesse with which she handles it, though, blunts the action's ugliness, an ugliness that I sometimes miss because I'm too busy chuckling at her brazenness.

"While you were in the smallest degree wavering, I said nothing about it, because I would not interfere; but it would have been the loss of a friend to me. I could not have visited Mrs. Robert Martin, of Abbey-Mill Farm. Now I am secure of you for ever" (33).

The pain of this revelation is muted for the readers in the realization not merely that this danger (that of a painful separation) has been averted but in our assessment that it was not that close to happening to begin with. For Harriet, though, it was very real, and she must be processing on some level. The subsequent exchanges in which she looks "aghast," says that fate would be "too dreadful" and that it would have "killed" her not to be able to visit Hartfield are easily dismissed as overly melodramatic, but I think we are wrong if we conclude that they are not real.

So, in addition to Emma hurting her friend's prospects, she inflicts, in the wake of doing so, some very real emotional pain.


That's not a completely rhetorical question. The decision has already been made, and Emma's influence over Harriet is such that she has no reason to doubt that she could make the decision stick. Even if she suspected Harriet were on the fence, this trump card might be held in abeyance for that contingency rather than used here to turn a winning bid into a grand slam.

Is it possible that Emma herself has just thought of this? That the prospect of losing Harriet was so distressing she repressed it, thinking only that Harriet "must" not marry Robert Martin without being able to satisfactorily answer, even to herself, why she must not? Such a reading would be consistent with other places in the text, most notably when she admits being puzzled by her own response to Jane Fairfax.

There is a bald egoism in Emma's statements--"It would have grieved me to lose would have been the loss of a friend to I am secure of you..."--that may make us judge her harshly, but there is also a pathetic desperation in it that may make us temper that judgment with some charity. For all the protestations that Harriet is just "a Harriet Smith," a type that is useful to have around, a project to fill her time, the prospect of losing Harriet leads to a very real panic, and that panic ought to key us in to just how isolated, lonely, bored, and trapped Emma really is.

The standard rationalization for Emma's interference here is, of course, that she thinks she can match Harriet with Elton, and Elton is a higher (if not a better match). It's telling, though, that this is not, apparently, the first thought that Emma has. Elton's primary advantage over Martin is not that a match would be better for Harriet but that it would be better for Emma.

I do think that endangering Harriet's prospects with Robert Martin is one of the very worst things Emma does because of that ratio between the (potential) costs of the action to others and the (unrealized but even potentially small) gains that might come from it. If one wanted to defend Emma just a little here, and I do, one could best say that her egoistic blurting of "Now I am secure of you forever" is telling in two ways. It's telling that Emma is motivated by her own selfish interests to be sure, but it is also telling that this motivation is less calculated than sometimes thought and more the product of unconscious (perhaps repressed) emotions.

Part of Emma's moral development is the acquisition of emotional courage. It is hard for any of us (much less those not yet one and twenty) to look at and face the things we are most afraid of, and the things Emma is most afraid of--loneliness, abandonment, boredom--are fears that are not without some foundation. They are fears of things that she has already experienced or is experiencing. Her eventual triumph will be not in manipulating events so that the things she fears will never intrude upon her world but rather in her eventual willingness to face the things she fears and to act in a manner she believes is right.

Even in this chapter, the farther we get from her instinctive panic, the closer we get to something resembling virtue. Yes, the Elton prospect is a rationalization, but it is one born of a charitable spirit that does want good things for her friend.

Yes, Emma's most instinctive actions are often her most selfish and foolish, but which of us cannot say the same? Emma's most calculated or considered actions, especially by the end of the novel, are usually her more noble. Would that we could all say the same to that.

Another Review for No Country for Old Men

My review of "No Country for Old Men" is now available at Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.

A previous review is also available at the Looking Closer blog.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I Have Joined...

...the IPod tidal wave.

Next up, I'll be podcasting my classes no doubt.

More on this earth shattering development as it occurs.

P.S. I have a measly 740 songs on my IPOD at the moment. (Sherry can mock me now.)

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

A Raliegh theater has decided to play V for Vendetta in honor of the day.

I like that...I like that very much.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Rant

First off, I'll say *SPOILERS* ahead because a friend posted some general comments on his blog a few weeks ago that I claimed constituted a major spoiler and he said did not. Well, having finished the novel, I'll just say, yes, it was a spoiler. You didn't give away the precise details of the end of the novel, but the substance of the ending was as I anticipated from your comments both in terms of the nature of the action you mentioned and the character who made it.

Okay, on with my comments, which have nothing to do with Dumbledore's newly revealed sexual orientation.

Unlike the object of some of my recent rants, I didn't hate this book or the series. I did think it was overdone. I'll also qualify this by saying my wife and I read this book aloud, an experience of which is always different from speed reading.

3) Deux-ex-machidobbyscar. The Dobby thing just turned into a too convenient Deux-ex-Machina. How many times did Rowling write the heroes into a corner only to use the house elves to get them out? At least twice in this book. The scar (which is forever throbbing, screaming, burning, leaving him in pain, agony, and sweats) also became an overused device to bring in offstage action and tie a plot together.

2) Magic and monologues. When Harry and You-Know-Who-Riddle are circling, circling, circling, circling, circling, I kept waiting for the jet from the Incredibles to come and suck him up by his invisibility cloak into the Island of Lost Batman Villains. Yeah, we get it, he was a Horcrux. The idea was on the Internet before the book became out and we had the entire idea set out in the dream sequence. Yet we have to have Harry go over and over to Riddle with a "There's one thing you don't know" speech. Which raises another point...this whole magic thing doesn't make sense to me. If the Death Eaters can put a curse on a particular word that alerts them to whenever anyone speaks it why limit it just to "Voldemort"? Going all the way back to the last book...if you've got time to freeze Harry under a cloak, you've got time to freeze Draco coming after you. Why is nobody watching these guys circling, circling, circling, throwing in a spell. Oh, I konw, there are shield charms over them or whatever. It's all just sort of convoluted to avoid the question of why Harry can't just use the invisibility cloak to get the drop on Voldemort and why whoever gets first spell doesn't always win.

1) Stylistics. Not since Stephen King wrote his valentine to Hannibal has he given a more preposterous review than when he said Rowling had turned herself into one of the preeminent stylists of her generation. The books are imaginative and characters memorable. As a plotter, she is first rate. As a stylist? Repeated phrases and whole sections. The books are increasingly bloated and the last one with all Dumbledore's "You are the better man" move from the over-ripe to the mushy. I've had more than one person suggest to me that the overwrought quality of the prose is an echo of the overwrought emotional quality of teens who are the protagonists. Maybe. Though the ending seems to portray Harry as having arrived at manhood and doesn't leave me suggesting that she is writing for teens about teens.

I suppose I should follow up on the last and the post in general by saying there is a difference between being horrible and being average and being exceptional. The books are mostly satisfying and I'm glad I read them and all, but...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Once in a Lifetime

Navy 46
Notre Dame 44

That hasn't happened since I've been alive.

Congratulations to the Naval Academy.