30 April 2008

Post 121

Weehoo, man--wee hoo.

Kierkegaard said, "the task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted." That's probably a terrible thing to say to someone stuck in a mineshaft, but now that I'm finally seeing a light at the end of my tunnel, it makes me feel pretty good--ya know, it was painful, but now that I know it won't be endless, I don't mind the pain so much.

I'm a fairly impulsive person, I guess; I really enjoy thinking that I'm not, but I really am. I'm given to bouts of euphoria and depression, and I often go through phases where every day is either the best or worst day of my life--sometimes, the same day can be both, switching halfway through, occasionally several times.

With that in mind, I should probably take my own thoughts with a grain of salt, and you may considering carrying a shaker....

I'm taking a Linguistics class. It just started today, but I'm already completely obsessed with it. I love it so passionately that it's almost ridiculous. In fact, tomorrow morning, I'm gonna change my major to English Language (which is essentially Linguistics For People Who Only Care About English).

I could rave all about how exciting this is--I finally have direction in my schooling!!!!--but this isn't really the sort of blog where I tell you much about my personal life except when I think that it can relate to you somehow, so I'm content to say no more than, "Hey! Finally this little butterfly is showing some semblance of decisiveness!"

Here's the (hopefully) universally applicable part of this:

In Post 97, I told you all about how all my plans and goals for the future were completely decimated. It was frightening and almost devastating. Though there were some exhilarating moments in the rush of uncertainty, I more often felt like I was being pulled down by some metaphysical undertow, no breath to be had. In the past couple weeks, I've been quite nearly despairing (as evidenced, perhaps, by Post 117). I knew that I needed to just keep moving forward, but it's so hard to move forward when you don't know which way is forward. When all your options look equally unglamorous, it's hard to do anything but plop down in the mud.

But I have persevered in this dark tunnel, and now I can see a glimmering of light. Who knows, maybe it's just the sparks of my hammer against the stone walls, but it still gives me hope. And now that I have that hope--the hope that "forward" does exist--the journey doesn't seem nearly so bad as I thought, and I am indeed grateful that it has been difficult because I've learned a lot.

"the task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted."

28 April 2008

Post 120

Well, I just saw Jumper. I didn't really expect to like it too much because it really isn't my kind of movie, but I wanted to see it because Doug Liman directed it. The only Doug Liman I had seen before today was The Bourne Identity, which I have long held up as one of the best directed movies I've ever seen and certainly my favorite example of smart camera work. Just watch the scene when Jason is looking at the stuff in his Swiss bank box and try to tell me that the camera isn't doing exactly what your eyes would be doing if you were actually observing a scene like that. You may not even be consciously of the way the camera moves because it's so natural. I watched a bit on the making of The Bourne Identity and learned that Mr. Liman often works the camera himself, so I've always kinda wanted to see another one of his movies to see more of his handiwork.

Well, now I'm kinda wishing I would have quit with The Bourne Identity because I have no idea what Dougy was thinking when he was filming Jumper--perhaps he was drunk, I don't know. Maybe The Bourne Identity was just a fluke because Jumper was garbage--any example of shoddy camera work I've ever had showed up in this flick; I was most disappointed.

Worse than the camera work (and directing as a whole) was the acting, but the bad acting was almost forgivable in light of the writing, which was worse yet. In fact, this is the poorest writing I've encountered in quite a while. In fact, I have no words to express how ridiculous the writing was. In fact, this movie makes me wonder whether Hollywood is testing the finite well theory and that this movie was no more than the random finger strokes of a chimpanzee with a typewriter. In fact, I bet a chimpanzee with a typewriter would have produced something more interesting. In fact, the writing has me so bereft of compliments that I've been reduced to saying "in fact" to demonstrate bad writing so I can assure you that, in fact, no matter how, in fact, the writing of this particular post may, in fact, be, it is, in fact, infinitely better, in fact, that the writing of Jumper, which was, in fact, pretty terrible, in fact--and that's a fact.

Okay, okay, okay.... I'll try to be a bit more specific:

  • The protagonist had no redeeming values--not a single one. He was unlikable, unheroic, rebellious, cocky, and stupid. The only redemption for such a protagonist is a tragic ending, which he failed to receive.
  • Not that there was any logical progression in Jumper's vague plot, but there were three fairly dramatic scenes--a bar fight, a sex scene, and a romantic apology--that were totally unjustified. The bar fight was totally unprovoked; the sex scene was sudden and inconsequential; the romantic apology was unmotivated and unbelievable.
  • David (the main character) has the ability to teleport (which is about as close to a plot as the movie gets; by the time you get to the end of this bullet point, you will have essentially seen the movie). But David is not the only jumper. A jumper named Griffin shows up. And there is an ineptly named group (they call themselves Paladins) that is trying to hunt and kill all jumpers. Unfortunately for this movie, Griffin is more a more interesting person than David, and the Paladins seem more justified in their desire to exterminate jumpers than the jumpers are in their wanton lives of sin.
  • David's mother is introduced briefly in two short scenes and does absolutely nothing for the plot except make a punch for a sequel (which is scheduled for release in 2011, by the way).
  • All conflict is left totally unresolved.
I could probably go on, but this movie isn't worth any more of my time. Besides, I'm pretty sure I've made my point clearly enough. If not, let me summarize:

Dude, this movie sucked.

23 April 2008

Post 119

Wait, what?

Readers, the unthinkable has happened. Really, this is--it's totally out of what I have previously perceived as the Realm of Possibility. You ready?

I just saw Cloverfield. That qualifies as mildly surprising; actually shocking is the fact that I liked it. More shocking still: I really liked it. Near blasphemy: I daresay it was a well made, high-quality flick!

The better you know me, the more shocking the above will seem to you: I don't like thrillers; I don't believe in alien invasions and subscribe to a nearly wholesale rejection of speculative fiction; I hate, hate, hate shaky camera work; though I appreciate open-ended movies, I demand that every work of fiction have some kind of denouement--and yet, I like Cloverfield.

If that's not a solid recommendation, I don't know what is!

Seriously, I was impressed. I was intrigued that the camera was the real protagonist--not the people who were running it. Because of that, I was required to suspend my disbelief that people would, in such traumatic circumstances, be so attached to a camcorder, but I found that surprisingly easy to do.

The director must be a brilliant individual. Just the way the camera moves--he captures well the feel of a hand-held camera, but he manages to capture all the necessary elements in each scene just as well. Again, I had to suspend some disbelief regarding the durability of the camera and the steadiness of its operators, but I found such things entirely unobtrusive.

I dunno. I pride myself on my ability to remove myself from fiction and not be entirely sucked into it, so maybe this movie just did a good job of not drawing in its audience, so maybe it is, in fact, not a good movie in the popular sense, but its reviews have been so good that I find that hard to believe.

So yeah. I really have nothing bad to say about this movie--except to mention the rumor of a sequel, which causes me to raise an eyebrow, but if there is a sequel, you can probably expect to find a review for it right here on The Eccentric Sage.

22 April 2008

Post 118

Hooray for solid stances!

Alright. So. It's been a while since I touched on my deliberations over my stance on R-rated movies, but the debate has been silently raging within me--especially since I bought Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind about a month ago. My dilemma has been this: though I have seen a couple of edited R-rated movies, Sweeney Todd is still the only fully R-rated movie I've ever seen, and I saw it in innocence. So am I or am I not the sort of person who watches R-rated movies? My official declaration of morals says, essentially, that I am generally opposed to R-rated moves but that I am not officially abstaining from them 100%. Still, I've owned Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for almost a month without removing its shrink wrap--partly because I haven't had a strong inclination to watch it because I've seen it fairly recently, but mostly because I've only ever seen an edited version, so I don't really know what badness it may secretly contain (as I mentioned a couple of posts ago).

Last night, right around 2:30am, I removed it from its shrink wrap very ceremoniously--which means you're in for another fairly melodramatic episode from the life of me.

Yesterday, I and some of my roommates decided that we wanted to watch a movie, so I rented Memento for us to watch. We started it pretty late, ending a little before 2am. I gotta say, I was completely blown away by that movie. I cannot remember a time that a movie has so thoroughly amazed me. The writing is brilliant, the acting is great, the directing is superb--really a well-rounded, high-quality flick. The F-bomb is uttered a ridiculous number of times, but foul language doesn't really offend me, and I'm pretty sure that, were such a story to happen in real life, it would be accompanied by plenty of swearing.

Momento is rated R for "violence, language and some drug content," but I'm gonna say that it was the language that really earned it the rating: the violence was nothing too terribly intense, and the "drug content" was so incredibly brief that I probably would have missed it if I hadn't been on the lookout for it (unless insulin injections count, because we do see a few of those). I'm pretty sure it's the exorbitant over-usage of the F-bomb that got it the rating; there was a lot of that....

But can I just reiterate that I loved this movie? I don't think I've ever seen a movie that was so intellectually stimulating! I'm always saying that I like "thinking movies"--movies that require the audience to actively pay attention to what going on--and Memento wins the magic chocolate monkey award for that, lemme tell ya.

2am and my brain is positively humming with delight. I'm trying my best to rewatch the movie in my mind so I can piece it all together. The more I think, the more I like it. Absolutely amazing, that's what that movie was.

Every night before I go to bed, I say a prayer. Whenever I pray, I do my best to silence the white noise of my soul and focus entirely on conversing with my Creator. Last night, as I did my best to quiet down the euphoric literary lobes and rejoicing analytical regions of my brain and steer my train of thought toward higher ground, I became increasingly more away that, while all was sunshine and skittles in my skull, a doleful cry (previously drowned out by the noise of my cerebral party) was echoing softly in my chest cavity.

Huh. I wonder what this unhappiness in my heart is. Weird. Anyway. Heavenly Father, I'm really grateful for the intellectual--uh--the, uh, the intellectually stimulating--uh--the, uh....

Going nowhere fast.

I was not to be deterred, though, and I managed some sort of prayer and then got under my covers and began making swift strides toward sleep.

I only got so far as delirium, though. As my brain powered down to the stage where intelligible thought ceases to exist, the abstract sense of gaping emptiness became the only thing I was concretely aware of.

Have you ever tried to rouse a sleeping cat? You know that look they give you when they just barely crack their eyes open and look at you with this what-on-earth-makes-you-think-you're-worth-waking-up-for look? I'm pretty sure that that's the look I gave my bedside clock last night.

"It's 2:30 on a Monday night. I have to get up to go to work in less than five hours--am I really gonna get up and walk to my thinking place just now?"

I groaned silently and rolled over--yes, yes I am.

I didn't even bother to put shoes on, I was so tired. The 40-some-odd degree weather and rough sidewalks were quick to point out to me the poorness of this decision, but I didn't particularly care; I needed an empty bench in a quiet park so I could sit and think. I frequent one such bench that sits about 5 minutes' walking from my place, and I was determined to go there.

So I went and sat and prayed and thought, and I came to the conclusion that, regardless of how engrossing a movie is, if it's gonna make me feel like this, I don't wanna watch it.

-So, Schmetty--how 'bout that R rating, huh?

Well, I'm pretty sure that it was the crazy twist at the end that left me feeling icky, and I don't think that that part of the movie contributed to the R rating....

-But, had you avoided the movie because of its R rating, you could have avoided that, too.

Seems irrelevant; that twist could have just as easily been in a PG-13 movie. Besides, my brain hasn't had this much exercise in far too long; even returning to the college scene has failed me! It feels good.

-But was it worth it?

Mmmm, pondering. Uh, no, probably not.


My intellect still tells me that a rule like "All R-rated movies are bad" is too simplistic to really be fair, but my gut tells me that I'll be feeling guilty every time I watch one. Even a very hungry intellect doesn't want to cope with irrational guilt just to get some excitement--at least, mine doesn't. And I'm not convinced that this guilt is entirely irrational. I think that if intellectual pursuits ever threaten to conflict with spiritual ones, it's always best to error on the side of spiritual improvement. Furthermore, even among the movies I really like, I can't think of a single one that I would say everybody has to watch, so I think it may be safe to assume that, if someone someday produces the best movie ever, and if that movie happens to be rated R, I would fare better by passing up the best movie ever because of a superficial rating system than I would by occasionally opening myself up for a soulectemy every now and again--not that even I am quite that melodramatic; the hyperbole is meant merely to drive home my point.

Resolved: no more R-rated movies for this little butterfly; no sir.

I walked home, feeling solid in my resolution but unclear on its implications for the R-rated movie I owned.

-Is it grandfathered in?

Gimme a break, Schmetty, that'd be like grandfathering in your wine cellar when you decide to give up drinking [not that I drink... or have a wine cellar...].

-Can we sell it?

If you decided to give up your porn addiction, would you sell your Playboys to a high schooler? [Not that I have a porn addiction, either--again, it's that hyperbole thing, my favorite device.]

-I know. We'll donate it to DI! We shall be philanthropic with our aborted bad habits!


Phooey again.

So, I came home, took Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind down from my shelf, and went back outside, removing the shrink wrap on the way. As I did so, I talked to the thing much like I imagine I might address a geriatric pet that I was taking out back to shoot--cooing my adoration, asserting my lack of regret for both purchasing and now destroying.

Shrink wrap: into the dumpster.
Factory sealing stickers: into the dumpster.
DVD case: into the dumpster.
DVD: one last goodbye, snapped in half, into the dumpster.

Thus end the days of R-rated ambivalence; now on to something better....

20 April 2008

Post 117

I ain't gonna lie, I've been feelin' pretty down and out lately. Therefore, it is time for me to write another optimistic post, just to remind myself that life is more than existence and that happiness must be generated internally. Please note that I am not trying to convince myself to be happy, to force happiness in a world of despair. No, I am merely trying to remind myself (and all of you) that life alone merits happiness and that, though despair exists in the world, it certainly should not be considered the status quo.

I regret that I don't have anything very original to say; mostly I can only combine the encouraging thoughts that various friends have given me in the last little while. First, this poem courtesy of [V]:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're treading seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must- but don't quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up, though the pace seems slow-
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man.
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the Victor's cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out-
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt-
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar,
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit-
It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.
Continuing to press forward is key, I think. A friend of mine recently pointed out to me that, so long as a ship is moving, you can steer it however you want, but rudders are useless when the vessel isn't moving, and you can crank that helm all you want to when you're sitting still, but you can't change direction unless you're moving.

I guess the idea here is to pick a direction and walk. If you stay close to God, He won't let you get too far from the path before He calls for a course correction. Movement is the important thing. Sure, running headlong in the dark is apt to lead to crashing into walls from time to time, but crashing into walls again and again is infinitely better than sitting in the mud and going nowhere simply by virtue of movement.

Sometimes our lives are not the way we wish they were. Sometimes the life we're living seems to only ever approach the life we desire asymptotically--getting closer but never getting there. I'm willing to say, though, that [feel free to disagree with me on this; please leave any dissenting opinions as comments] there is never a time in which there is nothing about our lives we can change; we can always change (and hope to improve) some aspect of life.

I was impressed by some of Confuzzled's recent Wondering wherein she talked about our ability to change our fates. This is an empowering ideal, very important to keep in mind. It is in the deception that our lives are out of our control that we start to learn helplessness. Now, granted, things like the actions of others or any addictions we develop certainly can be out of our control, but so long as we're alive, there's never a time that we can declare our battle to be lost.

And so I just keep trudging along. What else is there to do--for I refuse to give up on living, and moving forward is the only other option.

18 April 2008

Post 116

Ah, that delightful academic buzz. It's been so long since I felt it last; I've missed it dearly.

Today I took four finals between 2:00 and 5:00. Thanks to BYU's website, I can see scores and elapsed time. In 108 combined minutes, I answered 262 multiple-choice questions--and did fairly well for myself: 94%, 88%, 80%, and ??% (I got a 67.5% on it, but the curve in that course is so rigorous that I earned A's on both of the other tests I've taken for it, on with a one with a 70%, the other with a 68.8%, so I figure that this is at least a high B, possibly a low A if everyone else does poorly).

So, I feel pretty good right now. Maybe if I had really studied and cared, I coulda done better, but the oppressive boredom I've felt throughout this term has really crippled my study ethic, and if laziness earns me A's and B's, what do I really care anyway?

Anyway, I don't intend only to brag in this post; I'd actually like to do a brief movie review, so here I go:

Last night, I watched Big Fish. I love that movie. It's one I own and have seen a few times, but I haven't watched it since I got this blog, so I haven't officially reviewed it.

It's hard to say why I like this movie. Really, I don't have a single good reason to like it, but that makes me like it all the more. I've decided that, even though I have often said that I don't like long movies, I am not at all opposed to slow-moving movies--actually, I really like some of them.

The more I think about movies and try to review them, the more I realize that I'm pretty inconsistent in the reasons I like or dislike movies. For example, I've often said that I don't like the LOTR movie 'cuz they're so dang long, but Meet Joe Black is one of my favorites, and it's right at three-hours. I guess I just don't have the patience for speculative fiction--not that Meet Joe Black is especially realistic.

And so, at long last, I think that I have finally come to a solid justification for my distaste for speculative fiction; I don't think that it says much for me as an intellectual--or as a human being at all, really--but even the deepest oceans have their wading pools (not that I consider myself a metaphorical ocean in any regard).

I like movies that are easily accessible without being moralistic.

Glancing up at my shelf of movies, I think that this idea can be applied to each one, with the possible exception of the few comedies I own for the sake of having a chuckle every now and then.

My shelf of movies looks like this: Big Fish, Cast Away, Charade, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Freedom Writers, The Gods must Be Crazy I&II, Holiday (1938), Jakob the Liar, Maverick, Meet Joe Black, Mr. Holland's Opus, Stranger than Fiction, The Testaments, Toy Story 2, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-rabbit.

The Gods must Be Crazy I&II and Wallace & Gromit I acquired through strange circumstances and never watch and only hold on to because maybe they'll come in handy someday somehow and, besides that, to get rid of them would require more effort than the insignificant shelf space that their evictions would proffer is worth. The rest of the movies, however, I think are all meritorious, each in its own way.

I won't go through them all just now, but if there are any of the above that you haven't seen, I'd recommend any of them unilaterally (though with some hesitation regarding Eternal Sunshine because it is rated R, and I've only ever seen an edited version, so I really can't speak for what badness it may secretly contain).

And--I'm done. I dunno. I just suddenly got bored with this post, so it's over now. I assume that you give yourselves the liberty of ceasing from reading when I bore you; so I reserve the right to stop writing when I bore myself.

16 April 2008

Post 115

So... yeah....

Um. I just watched Lars and the Real Girl. It was--fascinating, actually; I was surprised by how much I liked it. So one must wonder--or, rather I--I must wonder what it is that turns me on or off to a particular work of fiction.

It wouldn't take too much digging around this blog to find my various tirades against speculative fiction. In fact, you can find a pretty good little one just by going to my last post (#114; I'm too lazy to link to it, but it shouldn't be too far from this one) and following the link to my comment on Thmusings. In that comment--which I just wrote a few hours ago--I talked about how I don't like speculative fiction because it isn't based in reality. Well, Lars and the Real Girl certainly isn't very realistic; perhaps a man could find himself delusional like that, but even a very loving and extremely small town would fail to play along, I think (though that may only be a reflection of my dim view of humanity in general).

So what are we saying here about me? My suspension of disbelief is only good so long as it isn't required to permit me to momentarily believe in tangible objects that don't, to my knowledge, exist, but so long as a work of fiction uses only real-life objects and creatures, then they can be as ridiculously juxtaposed as an author wishes and I'll accept it?

Perhaps, then, I lack imagination?

I dunno. How about you go rent Lars and the Real Girl, watch it, and then tell me what you think about the whole thing.

Post 114

Ladies and gentlemen, the unthinkable has occurred: Alfred Hitchcock has disappointed me (which means this post will inevitably have some Thmazing rebuke to me, so be sure to check that out [it's only fair that I provoke him since he recently did the same to me).

I haven't seen as much Hitch as I wish I had. I've seen The Birds, Frenzy, Vertigo, Rear Window, and--um--I think that's it. Or at least, that was it until a few nights ago when I watched To Catch a Thief.

Of course I was attracted to To Catch a Thief: it's a Hitchcock flick that puts Cary Grant and Grace Kelly together on the French Riviera--what's not to love?

What's not to love--what's not to love! Well, I'll tell you what's not to love! But first, a few good points (because the film wasn't totally bereft of value):

1) The acting: The acting in To Catch a Thief is spot on. Cary Grant and Grace Kelly naturally do fine jobs in their roles (who knew that Grace Kelly, who generally plays such refined women, could portray such a reckless youth?), but the minor characters all do very well also. Jessie Royce Landis is marvelous in her role as a simple woman who has fallen into substantial wealth; Brigitte Auber makes Danielle’s passionate anger seem just as authentic as her playful advances; John Williams lands a delicate balance between stuffy insurer and reluctant accomplice. Overall, every actor, regardless of the size of their role, found their characters and established them well. It gives credence to Stanislavsky’s statement that “There are no small parts, only small actors.”

2) The photography:
The photography in To Catch a Thief is rather fine; it certainly deserved its nomination for an award in cinematography. Hitchcock was very good throughout the movie at capturing the action—much of which takes place in the dark. In the final, climactic scene, when Robie is chasing Danielle on the rooftop, the sky is dark, the roof is dark, and the characters are bother wearing black, yet the action is easily followed. A fine balance was found somewhere between “looks like midnight” and “can’t see a thing.” The same is true of the firework scene: the room appears unlit, the only possible light source being the fireworks outside, yet subtle lighting does the trick and makes the scene both perfectly visible and plenty dusky.

Okay, enough pleasantries; on with the attack!

Despite the actors’ fine work in portraying the various characters, the story is not very solid. To Catch a Thief presents itself as a whodunit sort of mystery, but to consider it such is not very accurate because it doesn’t present enough clues for the viewer to pose confident guesses as to who the actual burglar is. Even at the conclusion of the film, when we learn that Danielle has been performing the burglaries, looking at the story retrospectively doesn’t present any “ah-hah!” sorts of moments. Subsequent viewings show very subtle hints—Danielle’s father was at the scene of the crime, but he couldn’t have been the actually thief because of his wooden leg, so associative guilt implicates Danielle—but the film presents no substantial reason to suspect her.

The editing, too, failed in many of its purposes and, in several cases, actually got in the way of the film itself. For example, the movie begins with a montage of several jewel burglaries interspersed with shots of a black cat walking on an expensive roof. The cat, we later learn, belongs to Robie and lives with him in his villa. During one scene wherein Robie and Hughson share a meal at the villa, there are several shots of the cat sleeping on a chair. Hughson actually asks Robie about the animal, making reference to Robie’s crime alias “The Cat.” Throughout the conversation, Robie makes it very clear that he does not feel any remorse for any of his thefts and that he believes that all people are essentially dishonest. Toward the end of the scene, when Robie has resolved to try to catch the new burglar, the cat arouses itself and leaves the chair.

In the scene between Robie and Hughson, it seems that Hitchcock was trying to symbolize Robie in the cat—especially when the cat roused itself while Robie was talking about trying to beat the new burglar at his own game. However, if the cat does represent Robie, then the opening scenes that juxtapose the cat with the new burglar imply that Robie is the new burglar. There is nothing in the movie to raise concern over whether Robie really is innocent; the mystery of the movie isn’t whether he’s the new burglar but rather who the new burglar is. Had Hitchcock been attempting to make Robie seem guilty in the eyes of the viewers, the use of the cat would have been very effective, but because the viewer never has any reason to suspect that Robie is lying, the cat is a sort of red herring that really distracts from the plot.

Another instance of unwise editing occurs during a romantic scene between Robie and Francie the night before Jessie’s jewels are stolen. The two are in a dark room together. Outside, fireworks are bursting over the Riviera. The two lovers are not concerned with the pyrotechnic display, however, because they are entirely caught up in their moment. The scene climaxes with the two going into a passionate kiss. While the kiss goes on, Hitchcock cuts back and forth between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly snogging and the fireworks outside. This is obviously a play on the expression that describes love being like fireworks between two people, but it doesn’t accentuate the passion of the moment at all; in fact, it comes off as comical, and the audience finds itself laughing during what is actually a pretty important scene. To be entirely fair, the relationship between Robie and Francie is sprinkled with absurdity—it all starts with Francie kissing Robie quite unexpectedly—but the comedic juxtaposition is still malapropos because any humor in their relationship up to that point has been precipitated by Francie’s impulsive behaviors, not by environmental elements. Either way, Hitchcock missed his mark because, if he was aiming for humor, he was shooting for it in a way that was inconsistent with the rest of the story, but if he wasn’t trying to be funny, then he really failed because the scene elicits chuckles.

So there you have it: a miserable failure from some of Hollywood's finest. Tragic....

14 April 2008

Post 113

Last night, I stumbled across something Brigham Young said that I've never heard before. His word choice was initially my favorite part, but, once I got past his awesome wordage, I realized that he's actually saying something pretty remarkable. Here it is:

Want of confidence is the parent of moral imbecility and intellectual weakness (Journal of Discourses 10:20).

See, I'm not sure I've ever seen the word "imbecility" before, so that certainly excited me, and "moral imbecility" is my new favorite phrase (defeating by a substantial margin "hormonal idiocy," which was coined by one of my high-school seminary teachers). So caught up was I in the vocabulary of this statement that I missed the meaning entirely until I had reread it several times.

This is a mighty bold statement--perhaps not in comparison to other things Brother Brigham said, but by most any other standard. And my favorite part is that it isn't condemnatory, just insightful. If President Young's statement is true (and I accept it as so), then it is a marvelous insight into human character: if you are struggling to keep your virtue in tact or if you can't manage to sort out your thoughts and solve various problems, then you're probably lacking confidence.

It's fascinating to me the way sins and vices and weaknesses interrelate. (Is that sick? I hope not....) I often find that, if I'm struggling with a particularly stubborn bad habit that I just can't seem to rid myself of, it's usually rooted in a larger more fundamental problem. Most vices, I think, are mere symptoms of larger problems and can't rightly be considered problems in and of themselves; in this regard, Mr. Young's statement is very helpful.

So let's put forth hypothetically that you or I or anyone--someone is an immoral imbecile and an intellectual putz. President Young claims that that someone is lacking confidence. So what shall our someone do? How shall he or she increase their confidence?

Wait! What's that? Did you hear it? I heard a scripture in there somewhere--something about confidence waxing strong in the presence of God. Ringin' any bells for you?

So, using Brother Brigham's statement as jumping-off point, let's climb up the ladder of authority a ways and consult the Savior Himself. Christ said:

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God...(Doctrine and Covenants 121:45).
So, cultivate love and virtue, and you'll become confident in the presence of God and thereby avoid moral imbecility and intellectual weakness. Seems--straightforward enough.

I love the cyclic patterns that the gospel runs in. Here, for example, we see that

Love+Virtue --> Confidence --> Virtue+Wisdom

Now, I'm no logician or chemist--I'm not really sure how to manipulate mathematically an equation that shows yields instead of equalities--but it seems to me to be not too far fetched to say that, if you're lacking virtue and/or wisdom, just increase your love toward people in general, and the increase in love will combine with whatever little virtue you have, compound your confidence, and then your virtue will increase and you will gain wisdom, which will hopefully encourage you to love more, which increase of love will combine with your increased virtue, compound again your confidence, and yield even more virtue and wisdom. Thus onward and upward on up to perfection!

So, my admonition for today: love more. It'll benefit you, and the world could really use it anyway.

06 April 2008

Post 112

More thoughts are rattling around in my head, so here we go again.

I've been thinking about Elijah and the priests of Baal. Ever since the first time I heard that story, I've loved it, but mostly because Elijah's so snarky that the story is really very entertaining. But today one specific detail of the story jumped suddenly into my mind and seemed very important to me in my life right now: after the priests of Baal had spent an entire day trying vainly to get their god to perform a miracle, Elijah built an alter, prepared a sacrifice to be burned, and then had the people pour 12 jars of water onto the sacrifice. It's the jars of water that struck me as significant today.

I have always found it fascinating that Elijah told the people to do it (and even more fascinating that they obeyed!) because these people were in the midst of a terrible drought; those twelve jars of water (however much a jar is) were probably very precious. Such faith! Such sacrifice! But this is not what struck me today; today these jars said a very different thing to me.

I don't know for sure that my faith could call fire from heaven, but I have sufficient faith that I can see God's answers to my prayers on a fairly regular basis; my relationship with my Father in heaven in such that I pray with perfect knowledge that He will hear and answer me--mostly by way of guiding me to do certain things. But as I have come to expect the arrival of answers, I have also come to the realization that the answers themselves are sometimes quite unexpected.

Does that make any sense at all? Sorry if I'm being unclear; let's get back to Elijah so I can make this make sense.

Elijah built the alter, put wood on it, got the sacrifice all ready and put it on the alter, and then he drenched it in water. Ya see that? Me, I know full well that God has the power to send down fire to burn up anything He feels inclined to burn--sacrifices, armies, cities--but I'm not entirely sure that, if I was going to ask Him to send down His fire, I'd cover the target with water. You understand? I know God can burn something regardless of how wet it is, but I think that I'd try to keep what I wanted burned as dry as possible, just to--ya know--make it as easy as possible.

But "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Meaning (in this context, at least) that it really doesn't make a difference to God whether the bullock is covered in water; the meat, the wood, the stone, and the water are all going up either way. And I don't think it's any harder for God to burn them when they're wet--something about the concept of omnipotence says to me that it isn't terribly difficult for Him in the first place. God speaks, the elements obey, and only fools question the fact.

So back to what I was saying earlier about answers to prayers often being unexpected even when their arrival is anticipated: I don't have a very specific direction that I hope for life to take me, but there are a few major things I'd like to do in the next few years--things I'd like to do because I believe that God wants me to do them. But the directives that I've received in answer to some of my recent prayers strike me as extremely counterintuitive--like throwing water on a sacrifice I want Him to burn. Why on earth would He send me south when I know full well that He wants me to go north? I don't know, but I've made the drive from south-central California to Utah and Idaho enough times to know that sometimes it's faster to go south first (compare this map to this one). God understands these little idiosyncrasies far better than we ever can; it's always best to trust Him.

So you have an obstacle that you're praying for God to burn down? Don't be disheartened when he sends rain instead of fire. Who knows, maybe a lightening bolt will come out of the storm. It's hard to say what God will do--even harder to say how He'll do it--but just hold on, have faith, and get ready to witness the miracle because it will come. Just wait; you'll see it. And after it comes, don't forget to thank Him for it, and you'll see miracles throughout your life. I promise.

-[logical gap]-

I've also been thinking about Morianton (though I, for the life of me, could not remember his name until I looked it up just now). In the highly abridged version of Ether that we have in The Book of Mormon, Morianton is one of the many kings whose reign gets little more than a hundred words. I imagine very few of even the most devout Mormons know who he is--as I have already said, I certainly wouldn't know him by name--but Morianton catches my attention every time I'm reading through Moroni's whirlwind abridgment of the Jaredite civilization, and I think we have a lot to learn from him.

As was fairly typical of their society, the Jaredites were suffering serious wars and political dissension when Morianton came on the seen, but he "gathered an army of outcasts" (Ether 10:9) and "established himself king" (v10) and managed to unite the people into a state of peace and prosperity. He "built up many cities, and the people became exceedingly rich under his reign" (v12) and "he did gain favor in the eyes of the people" (v10). He was a hero, and the people loved him.

But Moroni tells us that Morianton "did justice unto the people, but not unto himself because of his many whoredoms; wherefore he was cut off from the presence of the Lord" (v11). This, to me, is the worst sort of tragedy. Morianton was, I suppose, a great man in many regards, and he did great things in his extraordinarily long life, but he didn't have his priorities straight, so he probably didn't fare too well after his death.

Morianton is, to me, the absolute personification of the American mindset. He's got everything going for him--he's a great leader, a powerful warrior, a political genius--but he lives without God and is therefore lost. It brings to mind Jesus' rhetorical question "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

We need great leaders and powerful executives for our society to keep running, but I fear that many who lead us do not live exemplary lives. Rather than being like Morianton, we need our leaders to be--and we ourselves need to be--more like another great Jaredite king Emer, who "did execute judgement in righteousness all his days... and he saw peace in the land; yea, and he even saw the Son of Righteousness, and did rejoice and glory in his day; and he died in peace" (Ether 9:21-22).

05 April 2008

Post 111

Last night I watched The Man Who Knew too Little. It was a lot of fun; I really enjoyed it. I've decided that I like Bill Murry; he's a funny, funny man. I was kinda skeptical going in to it, and the first few minutes certainly didn't wow me, but by the end, I had done quite a bit of laughing. If you're looking for something that is merely silly, this is probably a good choice for you. The way it was pitched to me was something like, "It's Billy Murry being Bill Murry, and he's really funny. I think it was written for Bill Murry. If it was anyone else, it'd probably be pretty dumb, and if Bill Murry wasn't involved at all, it would be laaaaame, but it's really funny."

It isn't as quotable as many comedies; I found a lot of the humor was in Bill's facial expressions. Like when he sees the needle it the doll, he squints toward the bush with a really funny look on his face. And after they inject him with the truth serum, his face makes the line, "Oh. It's a real pen," really, really funny.

I dunno. If you're looking to get some chuckles in, this is a good'un. Not gonna say it's the funniest movie I've ever seen, but I liked it alright.

03 April 2008

Post 110

This post may seem a bit hypocritical coming from one who gives his post numbers instead of names, but no matter.

What's the deal with humanity's fixation to numbers? Why is it that we humans feel the need to quantify everything? I mean, I walk outside and, regardless of the hotness or coldness of the weather as I perceive it, I wanna see a thermometer to tell me just how hot or cold it is--and what the thermometer says may totally change my opinion on the matter, eg "Huh. Guess it isn't as cold as I thought it was. Must be a trifle bit humid today. And, come to think of it, there is a slight breeze...."

Perhaps this makes me seem quantificationally driven in a more than usual way, but I think that most people are just as numberocentric but lack the self awareness to see it.

Don't believe me? Okay. Let's talk about speedometers for a minute. What the heck do we need speedometers for? "So we can know how fast we're driving," you say. Why do we need to know that? "So we can drive at a safe speed."

*BUZZ* Logical fallacy! I object.

Who can determine a safe speed better than an individual driver? If your engine is screaming and you're afraid you're going to lose control, you probably oughtta slow down; if you live in the constant fear of getting run over, you probably need to speed up a bit. I'm willing to bet (or, rather, I would be willing to bet if it didn't go against my moral credos and religious convictions to do so) that, if all speedometers and speed limits were removed, our highways, as a whole, would be safer. For one thing, you'd eliminate all the whackjobs who wanna see just how fast their rides can go. Also, you'd get rid of the teenage speed-limit-plus-10 or speed-limit-plus-15 mentalities. Furthermore, nobody would feel the obligation to go any particular speed, so they would drive at a speed that they found comfortable, and I bet your average joe's most comfortable speed is probably more in the 50-70 mph range than in the 75-100 mph range.

I suppose you might feel inclined to point to I-15 in and out of Vegas as a counterexample because it has posted speed limits of 65, but flow of traffic is usually up above 80 somewhere. I reject your counterexample as fairly contrived. Last time I drove home (Christmastime), I was sort of in a hurry, so I abandoned my general conviction to trying to obey the speed limit and, after weighing my options in the scales of immorality, I decided that, so long as I was never 20mph above the posted speed limit, I was probably okay, so 80-84mph I went. I had no regard for what was safe, what I was actually comfortable with, only what I thought I could do without getting in trouble--and I totally nailed it; efficient travel and no citations. Had I only had my gut instinct as to how fast I was going to dictate my speed, I don't imagine I would have ventured much higher than 65 or 70 because I'm a fairly mellow guy that way.

Granted, if we removed speedometers and speed limits, we'd have to figure out something to do with all those highway patrollers, but I'm sure we'll think of something. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that this isn't the sort of problem that can't be remedied, only prevented. Had speedometers and speed limits never been invented, I think we would be better off, but I think it's a practical impossibility to remove them now that we're all so accustomed to them; it would be a very hard transition.

I wish I could think of more examples of arbitrary quantifications that rule our lives unnecessarily, but that's all I've got for now.