Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Morning Amuse Bouche

This is old. It's been on the internets since 2004, so you've all no doubt seen it cooler places than here. However, it's new to me, and I want to preserve it for my own future amusement, so I present to you Star Trek's The Trouble with Tribbles if it had been illustrated by Edward Gorey:
Click here for the whole thing.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Who Is Patient 67? Our Heroine Knows.

I have a list of novels comprising my Top 10 Reading Experiences. All the novels on the list are made of awesome, so much so that I can still remember the total experience of reading them, like how old I was, where I was, and how I felt turning the pages. The books are not especially fancy either. For example: The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park? Totally on the list. So are Gone With the Wind and The Mistress of Mellyn (note to self: one day must write blog post on the pulp-romance awesomeness of TMOM.)

Anyhoodle. There hasn't been a new addition to the list in a while, until this past Spring, when I picked up Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane and it rocked my face off.

This book was so thrilling, and made me so paranoid, that I read it in 5 hours. Could. not. put. it. down. The thought of going into my dark bedroom and going to sleep was simply not an option once I'd started.

It's not fancy, and not like Mystic River, but it is perfectly constructed to accomplish one thing: suck you in and freak you out. It's not gory either. It's just the best, most taut psychological thriller I have ever read. Period.

The great man, Martin Scorsese, apparently agrees with me, because he's made a movie out of it, and the trailer is below. The trailer appears more slasher-flick than the book, but I think that's just to create the dark unease of the book quickly. But just in case the movie ruins the story, I highly recommend you read it first. Even if the movie is great, you'll feel confident going in that you can watch with your eyes open.

I present the trailer, which I am so excited to share that I am willing to mess-up my column alignments for you:

You're already feeling a little paranoid now, right? Toldya!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Velociraptor Say "Hey!"

Y'all know that Our Heroine has an unhealthy obsession with dinosaurs. In particular, my love/hate relationship with the clever velociraptor. The velociraptor is Karla to my Smiley, Professor Moriarty to my Holmes, Blofeld to my Bond. You get the idea. One day, Velociraptor Mongoliensis and I will meet face-to-face, and afterwards, only one of us will remain standing (the velociraptor, obviously).

I realize I haven't posted anything on v.raptors or other dinosaurs in a while, and I thought it was time. If only Jurassic Park had really played out like the clip below, my blood feud with the velociraptor might never have been born. (warning: extremely silly)

via Videogum

Our Heroine Advises You to Return That Talisman, Post Haste

Uh, oh. I've got a bad feeling...about this movie.

Last night I forced Mum, with whom I am visiting, to watch Exorcist: The Beginning with me on AMC. It's a prequel to The Exorcist, and it tells the story of Father Merrin immediately after WWII. He's lost his faith, he's defrocked himself, and he's working as an archeologist in Africa. And, as we all know, every archeologist will eventually uncover a mysterious talisman that unleashes the devil. It's just science.

So it's a gore-fest, and not very good, and my Mum was half-reading a novel on the sofa, but she looked up for one particularly excruciating bit and asked, "Why. are you. watching. this?" And I replied, without thinking about it, "I just like movies where priests are heroes. Especially when they kick Satan's @$."

To which Mum said, "You should watch more old movies, then."

The problem is I don't know of any old movies that have positive priest characters beyond The Exorcist. How to even find them? Well now I don't have to, because in answer to a prayer I did not even know I made, today I discovered this list especially created to celebrate the Year of the Priest:

...the Year of the Priest kicks in on June 19 and to help celebrate it the National Catholic Register has offered up some suggestions for movies to watch which contain positive portrayals of our collared clerics. Here’s the top ten good priest movies according to NCR:

1. The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
2. The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
3. The Mission (1986), mature audiences
4. Going My Way (1944)
5. The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
6. On the Waterfront (1954)
7. I Confess (1953)
8. Boys Town (1938)
9. Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999), mature audiences
10. The Exorcist (1973) mature audiences

I haven't seen any of these except The Exorcist, and the last 15 minutes of The Mission. I can't wait to bulk up my Netflix queue with all the rest.

In other movie news, shortly the mail should come with the hotly anticipated Cache. I hope I can make Der Weiss watch it with me. I'm a little afraid.

Also: Thank you, B-Movie Catechism for posting this wonderful list. EegahInc, who runs the blog, has added his own addendums to the list, but Our Heroine refrains from such drivel. We are entirely highbrow here. ;-)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Our Heroine Grows Wary of Jesuits in Outerspace to talk fairly about The Sparrow, the Jesuits-in-space book I have been reading for the last three days? My first response, after finishing the last page, was to fling the book disgustedly away from me spitting, "That was an atrocious mess!" But then I read comments by the authoress and I calmed down a little. Not enough to like or recommend the book, but I'm not spittin' any longer.

Here's the story: a radio telescope in Puerto Rico picks up a signal from a nearby planet which is clearly choral. Aliens are singing somewhere! The world erupts at the news, but in typical U.N. fashion, no one can decide if we should try to contact or visit the planet, who should go if we do, who should pay for it, etc. etc. etc. Meanwhile, the Jesuits, true to their long history as missionaries, secretly arrange a spaceflight of eight people (4 priests, 4 secular scientists) to the source of the music. Communications are lost after landing. Many years later, a sole surviving priest returns from the mission. What happened to him? To the rest of the team?

Again, and I know I've said this about other books - I love the idea. Love it. I am fascinated by the concept that if we ever did make contact with aliens (we won't), (but if we did) would the Church evangelize them? How would it be done? What would happen? I could read about stuff like that for years (Eifelheim, I love you!). And I think it's because I love the idea so much that this book was such a disappointment.

There were several things that annoyed me, but the biggest thing was the Jesuits themselves. They were basically Protestants, if not actually Pagans. Our hero, Fr. Emilio Sandoz, the lead Jesuit, has the worst conception of God a Catholic priest could have [emphasis mine]:

He found the life of Jesus profoundly moving; the miracles, on the other hand, seemed a barrier to faith, and he tended to explain them to himself in rational terms. It was as though there were only seven loaves and seven fishes. Maybe the miracle was that people shared what they had with strangers, he thought in the darkness.

He was aware of his agnosticism, and patient with it. Rather than deny the existence of something he couldn't perceive himself, he acknowledged the authenticity of his uncertainty and carried on, praying in the face of doubt. [snip] As D.W. Yarbrough once told him, "Son, sometimes it's enough to just act less like a sh*thead." And by that inelegant standard, Emilio Sandoz could believe himself to be a man of God.

So while he hoped someday to find his way to a place in his soul that was closed to him now, he was content to be where he was. [snip] What he'd been given was more than enough to be grateful for, whether or not God was there to receive or care about his prayers.

Er...I don't mean to mock religious doubt, but this man is a priest! He presumably went through 10 years of Jesuit training before ordination, and no one thought it troubling that he was an agnostic? What is he doing saying Mass if he doesn't believe in the miraculous?

It just got worse from there. I couldn't enjoy the story because the theology was so glaringly awful. The doctor at the Jesuit clinic in Puerto Rico is described as being a tremendous success, in part because she liberally distributes condoms and birth control; it felt like every third page was dedicated to ill-formed opinions about priestly celibacy being trotted out by various characters, including the priests themselves; and finally, MOST ANNOYINGLY, the Jesuits get to the planet, live there for years, and never once talk to the native inhabitants about God, Christ, salvation, or anything sacred. They went as missionaries, so WTF?

I can handle it if you think evangelizing is in bad taste. Or if you disagree with tenets of the Catholic Faith. Fine. But then why make the focus of the story the Jesuits? The group could have been entirely secular. Events on the planet would have unfolded in exactly the same way without the protagonists being priests.

The author, Maria Doria Russell, is a Catholic convert to Judaism, and she writes that the book's message is, "You can't know the answer to questions about faith, but the questions are worth asking and worth thinking about." Now, that is a fine statement in and of itself, it may be a statement compatible with Judaism (I don't know), but it's not compatible with Catholicism, so you can't use Catholicism to illustrate it without beating the Faith into an unrecognizable shape. In Catholicism, you absolutely can know the answer to questions about faith. You can know whether God exists. You can know that He loves you. You can't know everything, but you don't shrug your shoulders and accept doubt, either. So to hear this theme exposited via countless Jesuits really peeved me.*

My only consolation was that I don't think she meant to misrepresent the Catholic Faith. She admits in an interview that she knew no Jesuits, so she read biographies of priests who left the Church post-Vatican II (I'm sure she thought those were good sources, but, no.) and she sent her manuscript to a Jesuit-I-shall-not-name for review, and apparently he did not pass out from apoplexy but gave her a big thumbs up. My point is I believe she wrote in good faith. Nevertheless, while I think civilians may like the book just fine, practicing Catholics may experience blood-pressure issues. But I am also Neapolitan, so it could just be me.

* I don't mind stories about priests grappling with doubt (like Father Damien). What I mind is when it is made to appear that the Catholic Faith accepts doubt as the place where any thinking person would permanently land after considering all the evidence.

Father Marquette preaching to American Indians (now that's a missionary!)

Maureen Fiedler, You Are An Embarrassment

Sweet fancy Moses woman, get a grip on yourself:

I am mesmerized by the Iranian citizens, most of them young, who are marching in the streets of Tehran. They show courage, spirit and a deep desire for justice. I’m especially intrigued by the women, many of whom are letting their head scarves slide back on their heads. A good number, I am sure, believe that the “hijab” is not essential for Muslim women. In that highly religious nation, this crowd clearly wants a government that reflects the best of Islam, the best of what their religion has to offer.

All this makes images of St. Peter’s Square flash through my mind. I recall in the late 1990s, marching through that square with hundreds of Catholic reformers from all over the world. We too wanted justice: justice in our church, such as gender equality in all ministries, optional celibacy for priests, and the right to elect our bishops. None of us wore veils, but if we had, they would have been slipping, you can be sure. We wanted a church that reflects the best of the Catholic tradition.

In Iran, at the traditional Friday prayers on June 19th, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader who can overrule everyone else, essentially told demonstrators that the recent election was legitimate, and that they should cease and desist. He rejected demands for a new election.

It reminded of that day many years ago in St. Peter’s Square, when our message too fell on deaf ears. Neither Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI has moved the church toward gender equality, optional celibacy or any semblance of church democracy.

A) That experience at the Vatican must have been terrible, what with the Swiss Guards beating you senseless when they weren't peppering you with bullets and B) I think the religion you are looking for is called the Episcopal Church, and they could use the membership. I promise we murderous thugs don't mind if you leave.

via: lots of places, but mostly Dale Price and Chris Johnson

Also: I don't normally comment on political-type things here, but, DUDE.

The Must-Have Dress of a Lifetime

Venetian Ladies Listening to the Serenade - Frank Cadogan Cowper (1877-1958)

If I owned the black-latticed dress, I would never wear anything else till I died.

Dispatches from Facebook: We're Team Kate, Apparently

What follows are wall postings by my family regarding the Gosselin debacle. I've never seen an episode, so all I know is what I've seen via supermarket tabloid headlines. I didn't realize Our Favorite Cousin and Little Brother both watched and had strong opinions. I was schooled this morning on FB. (warning, coarse language ahead)

Our Favorite Cousin thinks Jon Gosselin is the biggest douchebag.

Our Heroine at 9:52pm June 22
i thought it was the lady gosselin who was mean? i don't really know, i don't watch the show. wassup?

Our Favorite Cousin at 8:08am June 23
No, the lady Gosselin was just trying to take care of her 8 kids and husband! Sorry if she got a little bitchy here and there... OHHH... this is just terrible..

Our Heroine at 9:46am June 23
the man gosselin DOES seem a little immature.

Our Favorite Cousin at 9:53am June 23:
A little!! He has both ears pierced. Come on guy. Get a grip on yourself.

Little Brother at 10:49am June 23:
The only winner in this mess is Jason Mesnick. If you thought his douchebaggery would be hard to top, Jon Gosselin proved you wrong. I look forward to the cover of People in 10 years for the "Where is Jon Gosselin now?" story. My bet is 100 pounds heavier, fully bald and broke living under a bridge.

After writing that last post, Little Brother returned to his Tacitus in the original Latin.

Updated: Ugh.

The Crying Child by Barbara Michaels is the stupidest. book. evah.

Update: I'm sorry, I should probably explain why it's so stupid and I hated it, but the thought of thinking about that book causes a fine dust of despair to settle on my soul. I must not think of it.

Also: I know I actually said I would talk about The Sparrow (the Jesuits in space book) today, but it requires me to get some thoughts together and I was feeling flighty and scattered today so I abdicated my responsibility and just combed other bloggers for things I thought were interesting.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Updated: The Strange, Siren Call of Roger Ebert

Scene from Cache, which will be discussed in short order on this blog.

A random train of events today has brought me to my wit's end:

First, I wrote a late review of A Judgement in Stone for this blog, but before I posted it, I went hunting for an image to accompany it.

Second, while combing through my search results for "images/Judgement in Stone" I noticed that some of my results were for a French movie called La Cérémonie.

Third, I did some clicking and discovered that La Cérémonie is indeed a based on Judgement in Stone.

Fourth, I decided to request this movie from Netflix, for compare and contrast.

Fifth, Netflix suggested other movies I might like, based on La Cérémonie, and one of them was Caché.

Sixth, This suggestion tinkled memory bells. "Oh," I thought, "that was supposed to be a good movie, but maybe very violent? I will click these links to reviews and see if it's v. bloody before I add it to my queue."

Seventh, I click on sidebar and read Rogert Ebert's review, and the man is a Movie Review Siren because, although the movie came out four years ago and I was doing just fine without it, I now feel confident that if I don't see this movie TONIGHT I will be heartsick. Here is a sample of his sweet siren call:

The opening shot of Michael Haneke's "Caché" shows the facade of a townhouse on a side street in Paris. As the credits roll, ordinary events take place on the street. Then we discover that this footage is a video, and that it is being watched by Anne and Georges Laurent (Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil). It is their house. They have absolutely no idea who took the video, or why it was sent to them.

So opens a perplexing and disturbing film of great effect, showing how comfortable lives are disrupted by the simple fact that someone is watching. [snip]

I have deliberately left out a great deal of information, because the experience of "Caché" builds as we experience the film. There are parallels, for example, between the TV news that is often on in the background, and some of the events in Georges' past. We expect that the mystery of the videos will be solved, explained, and make sense. But perhaps not. Here is a curious thing: In some of the videos, the camera seems to be in a position where anyone could see it, but no one ever does.
I have to see a particularly mysterious scene he describes elsewhere in the review. I HAVE to see it and see if I can understand what it means. The question: do I pay $10 and buy it right now from Amazon? Or do I wait 48 hrs to get it from Netflix? Grrrr.

Updated: I chose Netflix, but I'm not happy about it.

Updated: Our Heroine Likes Her Murder Mysteries the Old-Fashioned Way: Mysterious

No, really, I'm only sort of kidding about the title of this post. It's just that I finished Ruth Rendell's A Judgement in Stone the other day (sorry I didn't write about it more quickly, I had a case of the lazies) and it was very good, but also very uncomfortable for me, which says more about me and my taste than it is a criticism of the story.

Perhaps I should pipe down and explain what the deuce I am talking about. The story is this: Eunice Parchman is illiterate, and (rather) conscienceless. Very little offends her, but her one source of shame is her illiteracy, which she has spent her whole life hiding.

She gets a job as a housekeeper at the home of a posh British family, all of them rather bookish, and (of course) they discover that she can't read, and the end result is murder. She murders them. All of them.

Now, I'm not giving anything away to tell you that she murders them all, and why, because here's the first sentence of the book: Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. So the book is not really a mystery in the way one normally expects. What drives the novel is the narrator describing the myriad trivial decisions, coincidences, remarks, etc., that had to happen over a span of time, in just the right way, in order for these people to come together on a particular day, in a particular frame of mind, for murder to be the end result.

The Coverdales had hundreds of chances, we learn, to escape their fate. If only they had done X instead of Y on one day, or if they had said A instead of B on this other day. But they don't have our perfect hindsight, so they don't make those alternate choices, and so they die.

Here's an example from the very beginning of the story: Eunice enlists the help her friend Annie to fake a reference for Jaqueline Coverdale, her potential employer. For the reference, Eunice gives Mrs. Coverdale the phone number of a "Mrs. Chichester," with whom she says she lives as housekeeper. The number, however, is really that of a public phone at Annie's boarding house. They wait by that same phone for Mrs. Coverdale to call, and Annie picks up and pretends to be Mrs. Chichester. A few minutes after she hangs-up, Mrs. Coverdale remembers that she ought to confirm with Eunice that she now has the job. Here is what the narrator rhetorically asks her doomed heroine:

Why not call back Jaqueline? Dial that number again now. A young man returning to his room next to [Annie's], setting his foot now on the last step of that flight of stairs, will lift the receiver. And when you ask for Miss Parchman he will tell you he has never heard of her. Mrs. Chichester, then? There is no Mrs. Chichester, only a Mr. Chichester, who is the landlord, in whose name the phone number is but who himself lives in Croydon. Pick up the phone now, Jaqueline...

"I think I had better confirm in writing."
Aaaauuugghh. So frustrating! That is the whole book. The narrator describing scenes such as this, wherein a different choice would have resulted in a much happier outcome for the Coverdale family.

Now, as a literature person, I find it fascinating how she has deconstructed the mystery novel and stood it on it's ear. But as a regular person, it made me ill. It just made me feel so very ill every time one of these critical moments was described. I kept thinking, "if only I could just warn the Coverdales..." And of course, to recognize that every tragedy is made of just such missteps, that are only seen as missteps when one is looking backwards, after the tragedy has already occurred. Perhaps I myself am now in the middle of just such a series of events, that are drawing me inexorably forward to some sort of dreadful end, but I just can't see it because the intermediary steps seem trivial and harmless...

Right ho, then. Moving on to something much more cheerful. D'you see what I mean about the book now?

I obviously need a palate cleanser, so I am both watching the BBC version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy via Netflix, and reading The Sparrow, a science fiction novel about Jesuits. I don't know which I will discuss here first.

Update: A French director has turned this into a movie called La cérémonie. Netflix has it. Am I crazy for being curious to see it? I'm going to add it to my queue, but I'm not sure if it's a good idea...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day to All and Certain Dads

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. ~Mark Twain, "Old Times on the Mississippi"

Especially to RK.