Friday, January 28, 2005

Entertainment News, 2nd Edition

Hello all! It's been a few months since I posted anything relating to movies, and with this being Friday, I thought it made sense to give my faithful readers (all two of you) an update on movies I have seen lately. I have seen myriad films lately, though nothing of exceptional noteworthiness. While I still utilize the free DVDs and videotapes available from the public library system, I have also had the pleasure of going to the actual theater recently. A few times even! The frequency of this activity wavers quite a bit, depending on a variety of factors (such as cash flow, what movies are playing, etc.), but lately I’ve been in somewhat of a cinematic splurge. It’s been quite fun. While the movies themselves have not been overly wonderful, it's nice to be out on the town, munching on popcorn and smuggled candy bars and licorice. With that being said, let's get to the movies!

In Good Company – ***
This is certainly the most enjoyable film I’ve seen recently. It’s a bit long, but the two leads (Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace) make it a worthwhile trip. Quaid stars as a man whose new boss, played by Grace, is young enough to be his son. That’s the gist of the conflict, but it’s not nearly as lame as it sounds. Don’t expect too much of an all-out romantic comedy—it’s not a film of the sappy and/or goofy nature. Neither Hugh Grant nor Adam Sandler would be right for the film, so if that’s your cup of tea, you’re in the wrong tearoom. In fact, the romantic element is not nearly as dominating as the advertisements would like you to believe. Still, if you’re in the mood for a comedy with romantic elements, this should easily satisfy.

White Noise – **
This horror film stars Michael Keaton as a man whose recently deceased wife seems to be reaching out to him via EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena). In other words, her voice shows up on his answering machine, his TV, etc., kind of like a transwordly static interference. The movie, taken scene-by-scene, is enjoyable enough, but it certainly isn’t that scary. The biggest problem, however, is that it doesn’t explain anything whatsoever in the end. And it’s not that it’s supposed to end mysteriously, it just doesn’t bother making sense of anything. If you’re truly set on seeing this one, I urge you to wait for the dollar theater.

The Ring – **½
Most people have seen this movie by now, so I don’t suppose my comments will be all that useful. Anyway, I watched it on the same night as White Noise, attempting to have a little bit of a scare fest. As is a common enough problem, I think the hype ruined this one for me. In fact, up until now I have purposely been avoiding the film, scared that it would scare the you-know-what out of me. Well, it didn’t scare me one bit. The majority of the film is more of a mystery than a horror film. There’s not really anything spooky going on most of the time. The videotape within the movie is admittedly weird, and I admit that weirdness can often be the scariest thing of all (like when you have dreams that don’t make any sense). However, I certainly don’t understand how this movie could make a grown man scared to go to sleep for a week (although I know someone who claims such). Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood.

Sideways – ***
This independent movie has received much critical praise, has won several awards (including Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Screenplay), and is up for several Oscars as well. While I enjoyed it rather well, I certainly don’t see it as one of the best films of the past year—unless the movie industry was really in a rut this past year! In a nutshell, the movie is about two somewhat detached friends who go on a trip together. One is about to be married and is intent on livin’ la vida loca, while the other is a divorced, depressed, and as-of-yet-unpublished writer. There really isn’t that much more to it. It felt a bit long and wasn’t as deep or as insightful as I assume it was meant to be. The transformation of the main characters was underplayed to the point of obscurity, making it difficult for the film to pack much of a punch. What I can admit, however, is that it certainly had the funniest bit of full-frontal male nudity that I have ever seen. I guess that’s worth something.

Saved! – **
Another small-time flick, this one (co-produced by the lead singer of R.E.M.!) slipped out of theaters too quickly for me to catch it before recently hitting DVD. It’s a comedy about an evangelical Christian high school student who, in an attempt to “rescue” her friend from homosexual tendencies, gets pregnant. Naturally, the movie centers on the issues of self-acceptance, self-reliance, and fitting in. It’s caricaturized religiosity—which is admittedly the main reason I wanted to see it—is a shameless gimmick that serves its purpose well—salvaging the film from utter cinematic banality. Even so, the comedic thrust tapers all-too-quickly, and the main characters are extremely two-dimensional. Minor characters are either so lethargic (à la Macaulay Culkin and Patrick Fugit) or so inconsequential (à la Heather Matarazzo and Elizabeth Thai) that the movie hardly warrants their existence. I recommend this one only if you fit the following description: you are between the ages of 12 and 30; you are not a Born Again Christian but you know several Born Again Christians; you have two hours to kill; you have a few dollars to spare; you are not in the mood to think hard. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Beating Around the Bushnell

One of the books I am currently reading is Jesus in America by Richard Wightman Fox. It is a history of the way Americans have perceived Jesus throughout the centuries. Last night I was reading about the 19th-century push to focus more on the “love” aspect of Jesus. Fox tells of a letter written by an evangelical Protestant, Horace Bushnell, who claimed that finding joy in the act of loving God was a good thing, so long as it was done properly. In the letter, Bushnell says we should love God for “his excellence and beauty,” not for “the state into which he would bring you.” Furthermore, he warns that we should not love God “only artistically,” since that would be the kind of love that “requires contemplation only.” Rather, our love should go so far as to join us “to Christ so as to be in self-sacrifice with him.” We should experience the kind of love that “breaks into the heart,” able “to change and work it into the semblance of Christ’s” (pp. 266-7).

I don’t know what I think about the first bit of Bushnell’s claim. It seems hard to distinguish between loving God because of the salvation He promises and loving God because of His “excellence and beauty.” God’s salvific role seems to exemplify His excellence and beauty. It seems everything I know (or can begin to understand) about God’s perfection is only heightened by this redemptive offer. Indeed, do we not understand and admire His perfection all the more by placing our hopes in it? Nevertheless, I find Bushnell’s further comments quite interesting. If I am even justified in claiming I love God, surely it is love of the artistic kind. I clearly haven’t loved God enough to let Him penetrate (and permeate) my life. As a Christian, I have a duty to love God this fully, but how exactly is this done? It only seems to be a choice insomuch as I choose (or choose not) to live my life in a way that allows God’s love to first reach me. Isn’t this necessary before I can really love Him as much as needs be? Otherwise, how should I know Him well enough to love Him? Does this seem accurate to anybody else?

Perhaps this isn’t all that profound. It’s just interesting to me that we can easily assume we love God and yet never realize that we only love Him in an aesthetic sense. “As in admiring a landscape,” as Fox summarizes it. So what do YOU think, dear reader? Is it wrong to love God simply because He saves us? Is it wrong to love Him in part because He saves us? Can we really love God enough to change our lives without first changing our lives enough to really love God? Things that make you go hmmm…

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Next Best Thing to Friday

Ah, Thursdays. Relief sets in just knowing there is only one more day to get through. This very fact alleviates so many pressures of the week. Why go to bed early when tomorrow’s just Friday? Why stress out about next week’s responsibilities when tomorrow’s just Friday? Thursday is great for absolving you of stress. It simultaneously reminds you that you can do anything—that you’ve basically conquered a whole week whether or not you thought it possible—and encourages you to slow down, take it easy, breathe—you’re basically to the weekend. It’s the perfect midpoint. This week finally starts to loosen its jaws, while next week remains in incubation. While Monday may be rocketing toward you at just over 1,000 miles per hour, that puts it at a comfortable distance, at least for now. And so, it is time to relax. And watch The Apprentice. Things could be a lot worse. Happy Thursday, and God bless us everyone!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Degrees of Difference

It’s official. I am a Bachelor of Philosophy. True, I completed my philosophy degree requirements over a month ago, but today is the first day my official student record actually shows that I have graduated. Funny enough, it only now seems somewhat official. Not that life changes or anything. I’m still working on my classics degree, so life seems normal. But it’s fun to know it’s really real (there’s always that minute chance that something went screwy and I wasn’t really eligible for graduation or something.) I think the full-blown realization that I’ve graduated won’t come until I have the tangible degree that I can hang on my wall. And/or when I walk at graduation in May. That might even feel more real than the diploma. Should I start introducing myself as Benny K, B.A.? I could at least sign my checks that way. Just like JELL-O®, there’s always room for boasting.

But looking back, things have changed quite a bit over the years. I got my associate degree in sociology from the community college. I knew then that I was interested in philosophy and religion, but I still planned on getting a sociology bachelor’s when I went to the U. Thank goodness that didn’t happen. My first class schedule at the U included three sociology classes and Greek. I wanted to take Greek for religious (i.e., Biblical) purposes, and I also thought it would come in handy for philosophy studies that, eventually, I would get involved in. Well it only took two days before I gathered up the courage to completely reconstruct my schedule. At the time, I was extremely paranoid that I would regret the decision. After all, I thought I might eventually do several undergraduate degrees (à la my father) and if one of them would eventually be sociology, why not do it right after doing a sociology associate’s degree? That made perfect sense. Luckily, sense wasn’t my priority.

It didn’t take long before I felt completely at peace with my decision to change over to the philosophy major. And, in large part because of the exceptional faculty, I eventually decided to pursue classics as well. The instructors really are to thank, and I know at least a couple of other people who, now that they have gotten involved with classics, have decided to change their majors. Now that tells you there’s something about it. I know a business major that changed over, an English major that decided to double, and just today I spoke to a Japanese major who is thinking of switching. Awesome.

When it comes down to it, there are only a couple of things I wish I had done differently. I wonder if I should have started with Latin, only because I think it might be more applicable to the studies I am very most interested in (early Christian history and theology, medieval and/or early modern philosophy, etc.). Plus I find it easier, but I think that’s in part because I’ve had Greek (not only because many grammatical ideas are similar but also because I’ve learned how to be a language student!). And even doing Greek first, I wish I had jumped into Latin after only one year of Greek instead of waiting until my third year of Greek. I thought waiting would be smart as I could then be more adept at Greek and Latin wouldn’t be so burdensome. Now I realize it probably would have improved my Greek to get involved with Latin earlier on. I feel like I must have slept through my first two years of Greek as it all seems like … well, like Greek to me! Oh well, what can I do now, right?

Before I end this entry, just let me say that I am working hard (and hardly working) on getting the “sidebar” looking all fancy. Well, at least getting some decent links added, just for fun. If you notice, on the right side of the blog there are now quite a few links. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, if you use Internet Explorer (as most of you probably do), the links shrink as they go. I have no idea why. If you use Netscape, everything appears hunky dory. I have written to blogger about this and am awaiting a response. Keep your eyes open for improvement. Also, for fun’s sake, I have been experimenting with … well, I don’t know what they’re called, but basically, if you hold your mouse over a link without clicking on it, some of them will pop up a description or a note about the link. For example, try holding your mouse over the first link (for 20 Questions). If done correctly, you should get the message, “Yes, I was thinking of a plunger!” You get the idea. Anyway, that’s just an FYI for the incredibly bored of us. Enjoy!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Days of the Weak

I’m writing this in a computer lab on campus. It’s Friday, which means I don’t have Latin, which means I have an hour break between Greek and Deductive Logic. It’s the first week of school, and already I’m so very glad it’s Friday. And a three-day weekend to boot. Hooray for me.

It’s funny how calm and serene this computer lab is today. Near the end of the semester, it would be overly crowded in here. The rainstorm of fingers against keys would be deafening. Today, however, there are only three other people in here. Web surfers, I imagine, as I’m the only one who seems to be typing much. Otherwise, all I hear is the occasional click-click of a mouse.

So, how is school? To quote the great Stephanie Tanner-Brown, school is “fine.” I think it will be pretty good once I get into the flow of things. It’s been hard this week, and I believe (and hope) it is all because this is the first week. I just need to get into the flow. Motivation has not come easily, but I think it will. Greek is, pardon the pun, a godsend this semester. Homer is so much easier than Thucydides, and the book we are using is fantastic. It has most of the vocabulary right there on the page, as well as a lot of grammar explanations. It is the most student-friendly text I have ever seen. The one problem is that my teacher has us translating about 45 lines for every class period, and as user-friendly as the text is, this can take forever. It seems a bit excessive. Later in the semester, we are switching to a text that is not as helpful, but the daily requirements will be the same. That will suck. Excessive frustration is surely yet to come.

My Latin class is kind of drab compared to last semester. But it’s hard to compare since, last semester, I had a fantastic instructor, someone who’s taught at least one of my classes every single semester that I’ve been at the U (except maybe once, but I can’t quite recall). In fact, this semester she is teaching my “Images of Women in Ancient Greece and Rome” class. I trust the class will be very enjoyable simply because she is the teacher. This is at least the sixth class I have taken from her. Latin, however, just won’t be the same. I have the same teacher I had for Greek last semester. I believe, given that I’m earlier in my Latin career and thus more competent, I should be able to get an A. At least I can say that much.

My final class, Deductive Logic, is really just for fun, given that I have now finished my philosophy degree. I hope I don’t regret taking it. It’s going to be highly mathematical. In fact, all my teacher wanted to do on the first day of class was scare everybody away. “If you don’t have to take this class, get your money back while you still can! Why do this to yourself!?” Such were his sentiments. Anyway, he is the same teacher I had for what was probably my favorite philosophy class ever, Early Modern Philosophy, and thus I expect to enjoy the class. And I’m not taking it for absolutely no reason at all. Philosophy grad schools require a certain level of logic aptitude, and I haven’t really done much with it so far. I figure this will help. I also have to wonder if it won’t be easier to ensure an A in a class where you’re not being so “creative.” That is to say, I don’t have to write a paper, I just have to know the math. There is no subjective component to how well I do, and, depending on the teacher, that could work in my favor. We’ll see.

And so begins the semester. Perhaps I will make it a habit to blog during my break on Fridays. I should probably invest the time into homework, but I feel incredibly tired right now. Naturally, I am already sleep deprived. I got about six hours sleep last night, which I guess isn’t too shabby. I think I can get things in order next week. In bed by ten, up at six. That’s my daily goal. It’ll give me eight hours sleep, plus I’ll have extra time in the mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays if I’m up that early. I think that will be nice. It’ll take discipline, but that seems to be my goal this year. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Resolutionary War

It’s day five of the new year. I meant to write about resolutions on day one, but that obviously didn’t happen. Luckily, blogging is not on my resolution list, so I don’t consider this a failure. Nevertheless, I would like to discuss resolutions. It seems the obvious topic, so here goes.

To begin, why are we so drawn to New Year’s resolutions? What makes January 1st so much more motivating than any other day of the year? It really doesn’t mean anything, but I guess we feel more legitimately perfect if we can say we’ve always done such-and-such (or have refrained from doing such-and-such) during the entire calendar year. So what resolutions am I already slipping on and/or forgetting? Hmmm…

For one, I want to write in my journal at least two days a week. This shouldn’t be all that difficult, but it would actually be quite miraculous for it to happen. I think I average about once a month currently. I guess blogging is supposed to be a journal of sorts, but I’m not really counting it as such. Although, I will admit that nowadays I keep my journal on the computer rather than in an actual, tangible book. It took me quite a while to come to terms with this, feeling it is somehow less authentic and less personal to type my thoughts rather than to write them out by hand. But what difference should it make? Really, I can keep up with my thoughts much more when typing than when writing. It probably affects my mental state to a degree, but I figure if I try to keep a handwritten journal, my chances of writing are significantly less than if I type. So typing has become a necessary evil. And, hey, if someone ever actually wants to read my journal, I’m sure they won’t miss trying to decipher my handwriting, as pretty as it may be.

I also want to read at least 20 books this year. That’s less than two a month, and I realize for many people that’s hardly anything. For me it would probably be a record, although I actually got pretty close to that last year. I’m already compiling a book list. I want to read at least five non-fiction, three “classics,” and two “children’s” books (not picture books, but something like Peter Pan or Harry Potter). There are at least two books I want to read that are over 700 pages, so that’s going to be a challenge. Not that length means anything, but I’m (perhaps shallowly) motivated by seeing the end of the book drawing nearer and nearer, as though I’m getting closer and closer to accomplishing something. If the book is huge, regardless of how much I like it, I will probably adopt some sense of duty in reading it. That’s pointless. I guess one of my resolutions should be to get over this problem. It’s funny to me how even something desirable and enjoyable, such as reading, can benefit from setting goals. Why should we have to make goals to do something enjoyable? Because otherwise, we won’t even do something we want to do. How silly of us.

I’ve set many other goals, but I won’t bother going into every little one. I’ve probably already forgotten a lot of them. I was feeling quite excited on New Year’s, and I thought I had a ton of good ideas. Now as I ponder them, they all seem rather obvious. Oh well. I’ve divided them into four main categories: spiritual, academic, relationships, and personal development (which is kind of the miscellaneous category into which both reading and writing fit in, seeing plays and going to museums, etc.). Of course, I might as well add to them regularly if I think of things. Why not? True, it won’t really be a New Year’s resolution if I add it in May, but perhaps the best New Year’s resolution would be to make and keep resolutions all year long. I truly feel this could be my year. Here’s to wishful thinking. May it grace us all.