Monday, November 30, 2015


Sometimes built up expectations can be a bear to overcome.  No matter how well things turn out, there are times when they still can't meet expectations.  Take President Obama.  I personally think he is one of the worst, most inept presidents in our history.  A born instigator, he has sewn division where there might have been unity, has accomplished little, and what he has done has caused as many problems as solutions.  He's mostly a joke overseas, and has made the US appear the same.

Still, in fairness, if he was able to walk on water and feed the multitudes with fish and loaves, he would scarcely be able to live up to the god-worship that he enjoyed in the 08 campaign.  With the possible exception of George Washington in the pre-PC/MCE days, and possibly Martin Luther King, Jr., who enjoys almost holy adoration status in the US, I can't think of a single person ever given the level of veneration, adoration and god worship as was Obama.  Clearly it shows that when a people abandon worship of God, they'll end up worshiping something.  And that something was Obama.

So no matter what he did, he never would have lived up to the hype.  Nobody could.  Making, of course, his miserable track record all the more noticeable.

I think of that when I think of our expectations of becoming Catholic.  What we imagined, and what it became.  I imagined a Church the way many old time converts described it, where being a Protestant clergy in the days of Pope John Paul II was a big thing.  Where parishes and dioceses went out of their way to accommodate and help  those making the difficult journey into the Church; made more difficult by the material travails that occur when an actual vocational minister becomes Catholic.

So imagine our surprise when we realized that, on the whole, the 'separated brethren' phenomenon had gone the way of the leisure suit.  And maybe it's what we expected (indeed, what we were told by some quarters) that made what we experienced all the more difficult.

And that's the way things can be.  Perhaps things aren't as bad, or are better, than we think.  It's that sometimes we can build up our expectations to a point where nothing short of seeing God walking on water can live up to the hype.

One of the reasons I'm glad we don't have much money.  I've often told my boys about a game I played when I was a kid called Dark Tower.  A fusion of electronics and a board game, it was quite the rage in the day.  I took it with me wherever I went because no matter where I was, everyone at every party wanted to play.  It was pretty awesome.  But in a bitter twist of fate, all of it was lost but the old, broken tower.  When I still have almost every game and item from my childhood that was carefully preserved by my parents, it was the one thing that was busted up and lost.  And today, unlike most of my other games, you can't find the darn things for less than 400 to 500 dollars.  If that.  Due to a lawsuit, it is no longer manufactured, nor will it be.

But my boys often tell me that it's OK.  The hype with which I've built the game up is such that, if we had the money and could get the game, it would almost be sure to disappoint.  And maybe that's what we should have thought about with becoming Catholic.  Given the tales and stories we heard, and the assumptions we had, maybe becoming Catholic was a doomed venture from the get-go.  After all, we imagined we would be brought in, embraced, and helped due to our particular difficulties and sacrifices stemming from our vocations.  Even had the Church tried to live up to even a portion of our expectations, we might have still been disappointed.  How much more that there has been little to no effort to do any such thing.

Just saying..

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why is Tim Tebow hated by the modern Left?

Because of this.  Wow!  I mean, if that was me would I have the same character?  I don't know. But I know that nothing intimidates the Left more than those who refuse to live according to the Left's narratives.

I realize that the question of Tebow's playing style in the NFL was a fair one.  His approach to playing that brought about a Heisman and made him one of the most successful college football quarterbacks of all time was a matter of debate even in his heyday.

But make no mistake.  The hatred, the loathing, the shut out and the jeering are the result of Tebow not only talking the talk of commitment to his faith, but he living it.  This is something that Christians - and in fact all believers who would not be beaten down by the secular Left - should rally around and support.  Whether Catholics will or not remains to be seen.  His appeal to the Catholic blogosphere is a hit and a miss, as is the appeal of most things non-liberal Protestant.

Nonetheless, I tip my hat to a better man than I am.  Well done Mr. Tebow.  Keep being a light in a world where so many are wanting our lights extinguished.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ohio State showed up to play football

So the fabled rivalry continues to snooze, since Michigan, no matter what OSU is going through, seems completely unable to beat the Buckeyes.  Last week, it's impossible to know what happened.  One of the worst performances I've ever witnessed.  One of the best, most explosive runners being told to stand aside so we could run the same ineffective play over and over again.  Some say Meyer was thrown off by the rain.  Perhaps.  I don't know. But if Ohio State would have played all season the way they played in their decimation of Michigan today, there would be no questions.  Ohio State would have the Big 10 Championship all but wrapped up, and a clear place in the playoffs.  As it is, we'll have a bowl game.  Who knows, maybe a decent one.  But once again, OSU dominated and trounced the Team Up North, and once more Michigan will put out another class that knows not what it is to win against the Buckeyes.

An oft repeated image in the rivalry nowadays
Now it's time to put on the white and cheer on the Nittany Lions.  Go Penn State!

Pope Francis blasphemes the liberal gospel

By doing something in Uganda and things and stuff that have nothing to do with accepting the hatred of the morally superior liberal West has over those barbaric darkies who haven't converted to the dogmas of the Left and the celebration of gay sex.  Now, with that saying, I also renounce any violence and persecution of people with the abnormality of same sex attraction.

But the Left leaves precious few options.  Either, like Kim Davis, you are a bigoted hate mongering homophobic zealot who deserves to be stripped of your livelihood or thrown into jail to rot, or you must find yourself pushed into the chambers with those who would take the basic moral assumptions of human nature and abuse them through violence and hatred.

Because the Left, in its continued push for intolerance, self-righteousness, oppression, tyranny and censorship will suffer no diverse or digressing viewpoints, there seems nowhere else to turn.  Of course Francis, for his part, really isn't' mentioning the subject at all.  He's simply paying respect to those who were given the choice to renounce their traditional faith or face the consequences.

Perhaps that's why the propaganda ministry comes out with such a headline.  Not only is Pope Francis failing to convert to the priorities of the Left, but he is honoring those who were placed exactly where the Left would place the believers of today.  Sort of a double whammy for the Left if you think of it.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Fun and silliness on Thanksgiving 2015

The boys clowning and goofing.  Haven't had time for my usual 'where the boys are' series.  Might put one up for all we did this Fall.  I might even post just what's been going on in our lives.  But right now, despite a never ending stream of issues that seem to plague us, we have much to be thankful for.  When I look at the above picture, and compare it to this:

I'm reminded that in our worst of conditions, we still have much to be grateful for.  

Why 1977's The Hobbit is still the best

At least in my opinion.  As I said here, I consider the 1977 Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit to be the best screen adaptation of Tolkien's works.  Since we had our annual watching of the version last night, complete with homemade mulled cider and pumpkin and dutch apple pies (again, homemade), it got me to thinking, without any real research to back it up, just why I still prefer this to any other version yet made (not that I hate the others, I simply think this the best effort to date).

1. The Talent

Not that other adaptations haven't had talent, especially Jackson's versions.  But Jackson has an incorrigible knack for making sow's ears out of silk purses.  Take for instance the inestimable voice of Benedict Cumberbatch.  No wonder he would be cast for Smaug, the real climax of The Hobbit story.  And yet, what does Jackson do?  Spin it through layers and layers of electronic and digital remixing so as to render his distinctive voice almost unrecognizable.  So why have him?  Just to say you have him?  In contrast, Rankin and Bass got gravely voiced Richard Boone to be Smaug, and Boone nails him perfectly.  Just like Alfred Molina was able to emote in Spiderman 2 in a way the talented Willem Dafoe was not in the first Spiderman, so Boone is able to put just the right amount of sneering and arrogance into Smaug that Cumberbatch was unable to convey through the computerized masking Jackson demanded.

The rest of the cast of The Hobbit can't be ignored.  The great John Huston, who could have been Gandalf in live action, provides the narration as well as the voice of Gandalf.  Hans Conried, known to most as the voice of Captain Hook in Disney's classic Peter Pan, is Thorin.  The usual cast of Rankin/Bass faithfuls are also present, lending their expertise.  But where Jackson could sometimes waste the talent, or the production compromises the talent (as in Bakshi), the Rankin/Bass production allows the talent to shine.  Even Otto Preminger, cast as the Elven King, lends a special spin to the scenes.  With talent like that used correctly, you can't go wrong.

2. The Background Art

Tolkien was no mean artist in his own right.  And if you've seen the artistic vision he had for Middle Earth, you can see how Ranking/Bass is far closer to the mind of Tolkien than other versions, especially the sweeping, CGI post-Death Star, imaging of Jackson's two trilogies.   The choice of a water color base for the background captures much of the Middle Earth feel, much less the feel of a pre-modern, antiquated world that Middle Earth evokes in the first place.

3. The story

No film adaptation of a book can be just like the book.  It's not expected.  But the changes should enhance the story, or be at least as good.  The 1931 Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, is based on the stage play of Dracula, not the book.  Kubrick's The Shining bears scant resemblance to King's book of the same name.  Even King's authorized mini-series changes things up.  But the changes must be for the good, or better, or at least take advantage of the medium.  So Puzo's The Godfather, a light porn novel with occasional mob themes, is transformed into a sweeping crime family opera by Coppola.  And the high point at the end of the film, the assassination of the heads of the Five Families, is done to perfection utilization the editing capabilities of film, versus the chapter by chapter account of the book.

So no Tolkien adaptation can be what the books are.  But they should be at least as good, or make sense.  Bakshi stripped away much of the story of the first two books and left us with a bare branch arrow shooting right across the basic story arc.  While much was missing, most of what was there still held to the essence of the books.  Jackson, of course, wanted to show the world what Tolkien should have written, and almost each time he meddles, he makes it worse than better.  Rarely do his embellishments do anything other than add confusion and plot holes, ruining characters or diminishing the impact of scenes in the book.  Great moments, such as the confrontation of the Witch King by Eowyn, or the standoff between Gandalf and the Witch King at the gates of Minas Tirith, are lost on Jackson.  Occasionally Jackson does well, as in the conversation between Frodo and Gandalf in Moria about Bilbo's mercy, or the destruction of the Ring and the flight of Sam and Frodo.  But those are balanced by so many lost or ruined chances on Jackson's part.  And that's the first Trilogy, which is head and shoulders better than the deplorable Hobbit series.

In contrast, given the confines of a 2 hour prime time slot for a cartoon aimed mainly at children, Rankin and Bass keep everything needed to get the plot.  I first saw the cartoon long before I read the book.  And when I read it, I was pleasantly surprised by how close to the story line the cartoon adhered.  Sure, there is no Beorn, and the Arkenstone isn't mentioned.  And the final chapters are condensed to the last few minutes of the cartoon.  But the basic story of Bilbo there and back again is maintained and conveyed.  And that, if you aren't going to reinterpret it artistically with an entirely unique vision, is as good as you can get.

4. The Music

Many decry the music in the R/B The Hobbit for its 70s cartoonish sing-song style.  And yet, that's the charm.  We read The Hobbit in light of the epic The Lord of the Rings.  We forget that The Hobbit was for children.  It was a fairy tale story aimed at young audiences.  Not the sweeping young adult and adult masterpiece sequel of 15 years later.  And in many ways, like the background art, the music seems to capture a feel for the songs and the atmosphere.  I have no way of knowing what kind of music Tolkien would have wanted.  But the songs in R&B's The Hobbit are able to move back and forth from light hearted (Chip the glasses, Where are you going, Heave-ho!), to the heavier (Mountain King returns), to the sinister (Fifteen birds).  And that's not bad.  Often music, when trying to capture 'a feel', keeps the feel across the board, no matter what the style of music or the moment in the story.  And this doesn't count the absolutely out-of-the-ballpark excellent rendition of the dwarven song of the lonely mountain at the beginning.  Partly sung, partly narrated tag-team style between John Huston and Hans Conried, it is the high point of almost all attempts to put Tolkien's songs and poetry into film in any version.  Ever.  And that's not bad for a prime time Rankin/Bass production.  But then, when you have Huston and Conried, what do you expect?

5. The Themes

Where Bakshi and Jackson often fail the greatest is missing the basic themes of the stories.  In his first trilogy, Jackson does at least try to keep some of the basics, such as the importance of Bilbo's mercy.  But by The Hobbit trilogy, Jackson seemed to have thrown out any regard for anything Tolkien had to say.  Bakshi, also seemed to miss overarching themes that Tolkien thought important.  True, the confrontation between Golum and Bilbo in Rankin/Bass misses the emphasis on Bilbo's mercy.  But it was a one-shot deal, and without The Lord of the Rings to follow up with, that could be forgiven.  In the end, Ranking/Bass manages, through its time constraints, to keep the basic three-fold comparisons that are Tolkien's basic plot themes: Bilbo, like all children of the kindly west, like simple things, Thorin covets gold for gold's sake, and Smaug simply guards treasure he has no use for.  In the end, adventure and war may have their place, but it's the wise Hobbit who knows that food and good cheer are what make the world go around.  And in our day and age, just like the 50s, or the 70s, that's not a bad message to remember.

Islam and Islamic Terrorism

Something we don't talk about in America.  We don't think about in America.  We're not allowed to even consider in America.  Islam is simply some element of the superior non-Western world wanting to sing John Lennon songs and embrace the awesomeness of Us (whoever Us happens to be).  If there are problems, it's some extreme version of hardcore fundamentalists who only hate us because the Wicked Rich of the West made them hate us.  That is the official narrative.

And yet, my contact with individuals from non-Western cultures, be them priests from Africa or Orthodox Christians from Syria, suggests our dominant acceptable narrative is about as close to reality as television's Survivor is really about survival skills.

In this excellent piece, the National Catholic Register bothers to do some homework and look at the possibility that the liberal narrative as espoused by President Obama might not be Gospel truth.  Not that I'm an expert myself.  But I've learned to distrust much of the leftist narrative, be suspect of the leftist agenda, and based on those outside of the media narrative loop, think the CR piece might be closer to truth than what we hear on CNN or the Huffpost.

Fooled me!

So I just posted about the fact that Francis went to Africa to trounce and pounce the evils of the Wall Street West.  Yes, he has also pointed to the problems Africa has in its own structures, and that's worth something.  But the headline I then saw said 'Pope Francis criticizes the New Colonialism'.

Wow!  That's what I was wanting.  The New Colonialism is, of course, the modern Left's contempt for those African types who aren't getting with the program and accepting liberal values, especially when it comes to sex issues: abortion, condoms, and of course the glories of gay sex (with the underlying heresies of post-Christian religious beliefs).

But what did he mean?  Well, if this article is to be believed, he meant that evil Stock Market, that is Capitalism and market forces that he seems to feel are the sum total of wickedness and oppression in the world. So I guess it fooled me on that one.

My message to Pope Francis is this: It's not capitalism or even Wall Street.  It's a Godless, heathen society that has turned these forces into base greed and self-serving interests.  Of course any economic theory has been about how to move money around and help society produce things in the process.  Capitalism did that like none before it.  More people came out of poverty and were given greater chances to to better things in a shorter amount of time than ever in human history.

That's not to say it's peaches and cream now.  It isn't.  Capitalism today has become 'how can we give the crappiest service, produce the crappiest products in the lowest possible quantities while raising prices as much as humanly possible while routinely screwing over the working class that makes it happen?'  That's not good.  But it's not necessarily Capitalism.

It's the same with everything else.  The same that has turned Capitalism into a sheer force of rank consumerism and greed is the same that opposes war, torture and the death penalty, not because of some lofty sanctity of life philosophy, but because those things impede the awesome centrality of the divine me.  The same divine me that the post-Christian Capitalist forces exploit, manipulate and abuse.

The problem with Francis, as well as most progressive Christians, is that he has looked at the symptoms, and decided to set aside part of them as no big deal, thinking that the other part of the symptoms are, in fact, the disease.  They aren't.

Take diabetes.  My Dad found out he had diabetes on the day he had his heart attack.  We should have known, but back then we just didn't think of it.  He was taking forever to heal.  He was always thirsty.  Really.  We would empty gallons of milk and fill them with water and put them in the fridge and he would down them day after day.  Of course once he was diagnosed it all made sense.  But that would be like us insisting that it wasn't diabetes after all, it was really just being too thirsty that was the base problem.  And further, insisting that the lack of healing he had was really no big deal and we could agree to live with it.

Pope Francis continues to open up arms to all the liberal sensitivities and axes to grind.  That which liberalism espouses, he passionately advocates.  That which the Left hates, he hates with the white hot fury of a thousand suns.  That which the Left believes - that everyone just wants to get along and it's only the traditional West that fundies and conservatives venerate that makes it impossible - he seems to embrace.  And yet he doesn't seem to grasp that these things he attacks are not because of the Right, Fundamentalists, Capitalism or anything else that liberalism says.  Just like the things of the Left aren't necessarily the problem either.  But the Left embraces the base problem, and that is ultimately Godlessness. Or at least heresy and heathenism as understood from the traditional Christian narrative.

Until we admit that what we call 'the Left' is a new, competitive philosophical and religious force that will tolerate no equals and has no intention of compromising, and further is an affront to the traditional values and morals of the Christian Faith, we're going to end up heading toward a cliff and putting our future generations in great peril.  No matter how hip and cool we think we are today for doing so.  

Pope Francis continues with the liberal narrative

Once again, Pope Francis echoes the assumptions of liberalism.  In this case, Man Made Global Warming.  I'm not saying there is no climate change.  Of course there is.  Every time I look out the window and don't see glaciers, I'm reminded of climate change.  Likewise, I'm the last to think that our approach to industrialization was altogether spot on, and am reminded that we should be at least skittish when it comes to giving blank checks to that portion of humanity that thinks science and math and engineering are the sum total of what can make the world awesome.

But there is a religion of Climate Change that coincides with the religion of liberalism.  In this, evil Western Capitalists and their ways have brought the world to ruin and only by accepting the solutions of liberal, socialist elitists can we be saved.  Oh, and anyone who disagrees, or in any way questions the already proven MMGW is part of the Vast [fill in the blank with your favorite conservative group] conspiracy.

So Pope Francis goes to struggling Africa, where faithful African Catholics are being brutally intimidated into accepting Western Liberal Colonialism, and decides to go off on ... Climate Change.  And he does so in perfect lock-step with the liberal narrative: It is proven.  We are all going to die if we don't do anything now.  Anyone who disagrees is part of a vicious conspiracy.

Again, you can insist that Pope Francis is simply objectively faithful and pure in his manifestation of the True Catholic Faith.  Or you can probably get to the easier interpretation and admit he's a product of liberal, socialist, pseudo-Marxist Latin American liberation theologies with heavy sympathies toward modern, progressive ideals.  I'd like to accept the first interpretation, but to be honest, I don't have the faith.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

As we sit down and eat, eat, eat, it's nice to remember God in the equation.  To thank God.  And to thank that oft spoken about cloud of witnesses.  In this case, the pilgrims.  Much maligned by anti-Christian, anti-Western folks, the pilgrims still hold a place in my heart.  Their courage.  Their dogged devotion to the faith.  They didn't sit at a keyboard and proclaim their righteousness based on how willing they were to tolerate the deaths of others.  Nor did they demonstrate their devotion by pointing out how the Faith would be better if everyone else was as awesome as they were.  They actually lived the life.  They weren't the modern John Lennon liberals, who croon about how they're all for no possessions from their sprawling multi-million dollar estates.  They did something almost as alien in our day and age as common sense and common values: They actually did something.

Praise God for those in our society who aren't part of the popular, post-Christian, modernist narrative, who actually do.  Who actually step out and put their ideals where their mouths are, and don't think that asking people to lead by example is a straw man.  Perhaps that, more than anything, is why moderns really try to dismantle the pilgrim legacy, just like they seem to want to dismantle all of the heroes of old.  Heroes, after all, are inspiring to those who want to do something.  Their are intimidating as hell to those who only want to sit in the bleachers and complain about those losers playing on the field.

So trying to take a bit of inspiration from the pilgrims myself, I say well done pilgrims.  Thanks for the witness.  For the Christian element you brought to a merely economic and political venture.  For leaving us a legacy of what devotion is really all about.  And thank you God that you still find it in your heart to give each generation heroes we can turn to, rather than be stuck with those who can only talk their talk.

Happy Thanksgiving pilgrims.  Your first may have not been a major deal to you, but what it stands for is worth more than oxygen to a generation that needs your example more than ever.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pope Francis is the one to judge

And judge brutally, without relenting.  If you are middle class or higher in the Democratic West, you suck.  Really.  Pope Francis repeatedly has made it clear that the last 2000 years of Christianity has got to go and we need to be right back to Acts chapter 2.  Anything else and it's the disgrace we are.  In his latest, he has made it clear that this war we are in is a war, and someone is guilty.  It's most likely those of us who plan on celebrating Christmas.  The whole Christmas season.  Oh please don't ask me why, I'm sure I don't know the reason.

But once again, Pope Francis goes to the world and proclaims that Christians, especially those in the West, are everything all the critics and haters have said they are.  They suck.  They're worthless and weak, complete with pledge pins on their uniforms.  Just like the Democratic, capitalist West they are part of. The poor are off the hook.  Those who indulge in the sins of the Left?  Why, that's when the judging comes to a screeching halt.  But if you struggle to have a middle class family and enjoy a little celebration in Christmas?  Why, you're everything the foes of the Faith say you are.  

I sometimes wonder if this is why so many on the blogosphere use the Pope as nothing more than a Francis shaped cudgel with which to bludgeon other Catholics who aren't as awesome as they are.  If they really listened to what Francis said, they'd be selling everything, giving it to the poor, and living in poverty and starvation.  Anything less, and no matter how many other Catholics they accuse, the fact remains they are the disgraces to the Gospel they imagine everyone else to be. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

In which we see only evil racist conservatives hate Syrians

According to the always reliable CAEI, things are awesome, we have nothing to fear, and only racist conservatives (but I repeat myself) who hate darkies and are scared of five year olds disagree.  But then, there's this.  By Walter Mead, not exactly your typical hard right wing radical.  It's almost like there is bad on both sides of the debate and we'd be better off to pause and look things over to make sure everyone is taken care of.  

The breakdown of modern Catholic apologetics

Is best displayed by this, in which one of the leading Catholic apologists today approaches the complexities of the Syrian crisis and Isis with kudos for such a brilliant and penetrating assessment.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

For Paris and all victims of Islamic aggression

And that would include Muslims.  I wonder what lessons we'll learn from this.  I'm sure we'll learn something.  How valuable or true it is will remain to be seen. Nonetheless, we can do as my youngest son suggested: pray that all the people in the world we don't know don't get hurt, and pray for the bad people too.  Not bad.  Out of the mouths of babes they say.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

November films

I should be getting back to the blog more again.  I'll explain later.  But I thought I would come back with a quick romp through some movies we like to watch during that often overlooked month of November.  My first take on movies we watch for Halloween was quite a hit in the day.  But November is often overlooked as a month with 'required viewing' for movies and film.  Being film buffs, that obviously can't be the case with us.  So below are some movies that, at different times and in different years, we try to watch during this month.  Two are every year no questions asked (I'll leave the good readers to figure out which those are).  The others are nice when we get the chance. 

Last of the Mohicans. 

As brought to life with Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye, Last of the Mohicans hearkens to that colonial time that, by my feelings, still resonates with the fall.  I would probably watch this closer to October or late September, but given our penchant for watching spook movies and supernatural fare during that time, there just isn’t room. So it’s off to the month of November. The movie is based, fairly loosely, on the book of the same name.  But in many ways it simply takes the basic story arc and discards much of the nuance that Cooper brought to the novel.  Cooper’s novel was a celebration of American life on the frontier, a critique, as well as an attempt to understand the lives of the American Indians whose lands we were quickly overtaking.  In this film version, there is little subtlety.  Released in the shadow of Dances With Wolves, there isn’t much imagination needed to figure out who the bad guys are.  Or, at least, who the incompetent guys are.  Watching this, you’re almost shocked that the Europeans could in any way overtake the far superior Indian society.

Unlike the novel, where Hawkeye is a bridge between the two cultures, observing and critiquing both while also advocating their better parts, in this version, Hawkeye is Indian in all but genetics.  He has virtually no connection to the Christian Western culture, contempt for everything to do with it, and joins the other Indians and frontiersmen in their basic loathing and disregard for almost everything to do with their English and Western roots. 

Yet it was still in the 90s, and so the actual settlers were still considered innocent victims, and the sinister Magua, played brilliantly by Wes Studi, reminds us that not all Indians were capable of dying for the sins of humanity.   Something that, by today, most treatments have forgotten as the Native is elevated to almost godlike status, and the hapless frontiersmen to the role of the demonic.

The Hobbit (Rankin/Bass version)
For my money, still the best film adaptation of a Tolkien work. Rankin and Bass’s The Hobbit is required viewing for our family in November.  It was in November that the special originally aired.  I only paid scant attention to it then.  I had not heard of Tolkien at that point in my life.  Nor was I overly interested in fantasy or myth.  That would come later.  My interests were mostly in history, especially the history of WWII.  If anything, my imagination had just taken a turn thanks to that little film about some spaceships and aliens in a galaxy far, far away.  Still, I remember sitting in our family room (which was really just an old bedroom), with the TV on.  I was playing with some toys, and this came on.  Didn’t interest me then. 

By college, I had discovered Tolkien and read his works.  At first LoTRs more or less bored me, but I did find the Hobbit enjoyable.  And what’s more, I remembered the special when I first read the book, and was pleasantly surprised at how it established a basic understanding of the plot and the characters and the basic themes.  Sure, there was no Arkenstone nor was there Beorn.  But there was nothing added (hello, Peter Jackson).  If nothing, I was bothered by the short treatment Thorin received.  Otherwise, the acting talent, the background scenery, and the fealty to Tolkien’s ‘old world antiquity’ that the basic design has, still holds a place in my heart. 

I know many can’t stand it.  Even in its day, it had its detractors, especially when it comes to the conceptual design of some of the character classes (dwarves and wood elves especially).  Still, after Jackson’s introduction of beardless, beefcake dwarf heartthrobs with elven love affairs, all of that license seems rather tame today.  For us, it is a throwback to a time when fantasy was not yet mainstream or a billion dollar genre, when concepts of Toklien didn’t include endless CGI murals, but instead had a simple candle with an open codex to remind us of the pre-modern world that the author himself envisioned.

Devil and Daniel Webster
Based on the short story of the same name, and originally released under the title All That Money Can Buy, this film is most enjoyable when the late, great Walter Houston is chewing up scenery as none other than Old Scratch himself.  It’s really a retelling of sorts of the old Faustian Bargain.  James Craig is capable enough as Jabez Stone, a New England farmer who is down on his luck, and lashes out in a fit of rage that he would sell his soul for a break.  In comes Walter Houston with just the answer: Money and all it can buy.  Of course we know how that goes.  At first fortune shines on gentleman farmer Stone, but pretty soon the lures of Hell begin to corrupt him.  Eventually he finds his life falling apart and tries to get out of the bargain.  Old Scratch will have none of it, and it’s the almost godlike Daniel Webster, played wonderfully by the always solid Edward Arnold, who steps in and saves the day.   

In addition to being seeped in old colonial era frontier feel that I associate with fall, and the New England life that one naturally places at the foot of traditional Thanksgiving, the movie is noteworthy for being positive in its appraisal of America, while not hesitating to speak to its sins, albeit through the mouth of the Devil himself. 

Mayflower: Pilgrim’s Adventure
The myth of myths is one of the banes of history.  That is, the idea that people always believed what most probably never did, and therefore we must over emphasize things in ways that are probably as wrong as any myths people are supposed to have believed in the first place.  So we have the now maligned pilgrims, treated as if they were worshiped as gods when, as early as I remember, we merely celebrated their courage and forbearance, and the promise of what could have been with the aid they received from the local American Indians.  That was about it.  And that was as early as first grade, c. 1972.  Yet we must emphasize the scandal, the bad, the negative.  We must do that to offset that pesky myth, which from what I’ve found, has never really existed.  Just like I hear people say we have to stop the myth that Columbus went out to prove the world was flat! The only time I heard that was in Bugs Bunny reruns.  As long as I remember, we were taught that Columbus did not do that.  Same with the pilgrims.  And so this special dared, in its day, to try to show the complexities of relationships between the passengers on that fateful voyage, and expose some of the warts and all of what went on.  Compared to treatments that the poor pilgrims receive today, the movie is almost mythical in its own right.  And perhaps that is what defines a myth.  When a new generation rises up and no longer sees things through the same subjective prisms, the other ways must simply be because of myth.

Nonetheless, the movie itself is credible enough.  Anthony Hopkins does a good job as Captain Jones, and Richard Crenna and the rest of the cast and film manages to maintain a sense of respect without mock sentimentality or that tiresome sense of irony that marks so many modern historical flicks.

The Exorcist
Perhaps the most intense movie of terror ever made. I’m not sure why, but this is November viewing for me.  At the beginning of the movie, some Tricks-or-Treaters are shown running by under some fall foliage.  It must be Halloween at the start of the story.  Since no other holiday is mentioned, I imagine the events unfold over the next few weeks.  By the end, the coldness of the weather is emphasized, trees are bare, but no snow or snowfall.  So I imagine it is mostly through the month of November that the story happens. 

As a result, post-Halloween November is the perfect time for this. Not to mention that November is when the fall becomes the season of dead.  The vibrancy of fall is usually, by now, a thing of the past.   Bare trees, brown and dried leaves, withered shrubs and browning grass all mark the turn toward the deadness of winter.  It is, not unsurprisingly, this season when Satan attempts to explode into the world by seizing none other than strange Regan, daughter of non-religious, morally ambiguous actress.  The acting is first rate, the possession scenes still intense and shocking ever after all these decades. 

It’s a nice reminder of good old fashioned good vs. evil, and so  well known that nothing else needs to be said.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Between the Great Pumpkin and the Easter Beagle is this Peanuts holiday special.  Introducing the Television audience to the annoyingly buff tomboy character of Peppermint Patty, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving was the last of the Peanut’s Holiday Specials with close to a heart for the traditional holidays.  Where A Charlie Brown Christmas oozed with Christian meaning an nostalgia, and The Great Pumpkin was covered with all the trappings of a childhood Halloween celebration and atmosphere anyone in the Midwest would have remembered, the Thanksgiving special only touches on such things.  Largely a mixed up series of gags and strange Snoopy skits, it only barely taps in feelings  of the Thanksgiving holidays of old.  The pilgrims are reduced to a costume and a brief Thanksgiving prayer.  Something about being thankful more than wanting the commercial fixings, and friendship.  It showed that whatever Schultz had to tell the world with his fabled Christmas special seemed to be running low on steam, and increasingly all that was left were excuses for coming up with specials for the bucks of it.

Still, it’s not as convoluted as the Easter Beagle, and with its faux colonial style musical score, has enough holiday feel to make it worth the watch.

The Blue Max
What?  Never heard of it!  I get that a lot with this movie.  It’s a bit of a lost gem.  For some reason, I always associate fall with WWI, as I do with most history.  As I’ve written elsewhere, history and fall seem to go hand in hand.  Plus, Charlie Brown’s dog snoopy imagines wandering about the WWI countryside in the Great Pumpkin, so I imagine it’s partly that as well.  In any event, WWI and the fall are associated, and this is one of the better movies to invoke that feeling.  WWI movies are hard to come by, and many that are WWI are so saturated with purpose and message that there isn’t much atmosphere apart from the obvious polemics.  But this, while it does point to issues of war and class, is more about the fictional story of a man obsessed with proving himself, only to end up over his head.  The late George Peppard does well enough as a German, though as always James Mason is there to give umph to the cast, and noteworthy German actor Karl Michael Vogler helps to add a little ‘this is really supposed to be Germany’ feel to the film.  Nothing special, not a bad film at all – and pretty racy in its day.   

Historians can, of course, pick apart the details, as they can with any film.  But for November and fall and a bit of the now forgotten War to end all Wars, not a bad way to spend a couple hours. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thank you Veterans

Marine in the snow
Just saying.  It's hard to believe we are in a state of perpetual war.  And even more hard to believe that we are losing and nobody seems to care.  Which more or less besmirches the legacy of not only those veterans serving now, but all those who have gone before.  Truly we are not worthy of their sacrifice.  Nonetheless, unworthily though I can say it, thank you for the sacrifices.  May this generation that no longer seems to know the traditions of the Faith given us by God wake up before it is too late and make such a remembrance as will be worthy of more than scorn from future generations.