Friday, March 30, 2018

Movie Review: The King of Kings (1927)

The King of Kings (1927) directed by Cecil B. DeMille

Cecil B. DeMille is the king of classic epics. His color, talkie version of The Ten Commandments (yeah, he also made a black and white, silent version thirty-three years earlier) was a staple of Easter viewing when I was a kid. He also made a biopic of Jesus Christ called The King of Kings thirty-four years before the color, talkie version by some other director. How was DeMille's take on the gospel narratives?

The production values are classic DeMille. In addition to the lavish sets and costumes, two sequences are shot in color--the opening sequence showing the opulent lifestyle of Mary Magdalene and the resurrection sequence near the end of the film. Jesus is often depicted as shining or glowing, which is a bit cheesy to me. Other special effects are amazing, like the casting out of the seven demons from Mary Magdalene and the earthquake at the end of the crucifixion scene. The acting is typical of the silent era with the occasional affected melodramatic pose. H. B. Warner's performance as Jesus is a bit too detached and otherworldly for my tastes but is a choice I understand even if I don't find it inspiring.

The story is mostly faithful to the Scriptures, even using quotes for the dialogue/title cards with chapter and verse cited. The movie is intentionally reverent and an early title card notes Jesus's call to His disciples to spread the news of His life, a mission which this film also wants to serve. The movie's focus is solely on Jesus's public life (so no nativity sequence, alas). Some artistic and narrative liberties are taken. Events are put together in logical rather than chronological sets--when Jesus has to pay the tax (and he has Peter go fishing for a fish that just happens to have a coin in its mouth!) is joined with a pharisee questioning whether it is proper to pay the taxes. The scene concludes with Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle. The biggest creative licenses are Mary Magdalene as a wealthy and independent courtesan who becomes a follower of Jesus and the evangelist Mark being a child whom Christ cures and who follows the Savior throughout the movie. High Priest Caiaphas prays in the temple after the crucifixion that the crime of killing Jesus only be blamed on him and not the Jewish people, mollifying his villainous behavior earlier. These choices are interesting and certainly inoffensive to Christian sensibilities.

The pace of the movie is slow but not boring. I watched the premiere cut that played at Grumman's Chinese theater in 1927 which is 155 minutes long. The Criterion Collection DVD includes that version and the 112 minute general release version of the film.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book Review: Sermons for Lent by Francis de Sales

The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Lent Given in 1622 by Francis de Sales

This series of twelve sermons was preached by Saint Francis de Sales to the Visitation nuns in 1622. He gives them pastoral care and spiritual guidance that is both specific to them and of interest and value to Christians of every vocation, in any time.

Part of the value is his rhetorical skills. He typically focuses on one big topic, like faith or fasting, and narrows down to specific topics, often sets of three subtopics. He is well versed in Scriptures, in the classics, and the church fathers, drawing examples from each as suits his need. His language is clear and direct; his arguments are easy to follow. He is a fine writer.

The greatest value is his spiritual insights and advice. For example, he expands the idea of fasting beyond food to disciplining all the appetites including the senses' appetites and the intellect's appetite. He considers the pitfall of fasting to impress others or to (ironically enough) feed one's own ego. In another sermon he describes the proper way to be ill when he discusses the story of Jesus curing Peter's mother-in-law. Francis digs into the details of the story, pulling out great insights. She doesn't complain about her illness (which must be pretty bad if she is bedridden) and doesn't ask for a cure even though Jesus is in the house. She humbly accepts the burden and gratefully serves her guests when Jesus restores her to health.

The sermons cover a wide range of topics, from faith to fasting to charity to divine providence. His words give practical advice on how to listen to the Word of God and how to fear death in the proper way. The final sermon is from Good Friday and looks at Jesus on the cross. The faithful need to keep their eyes on the cross just as the Israelites kept their eyes on the brass serpent in Exodus in order to be saved from spiritual death. Francis goes through the seven last words of Jesus on the cross, providing thoughtful insights on each.

Each sermon is easy to read and takes less than twenty minutes, though they certainly give meditative insights that last much longer. This book may enter my regular Lenten reading. It is valuable in or out of the Lenten season.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Book Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier by E. Brubaker et al.

Captain America: Winter Soldier written by Ed Brubaker, art by Steve Epting, Michael Lark, and John Paul Leon

The Red Skull is accumulating resources to recreate the Cosmic Cube, a device that allows the owner to will things into existence. This present-day Cube has almost no power. Red Skull orchestrates a mass killing that will make the Cube usable. Being Red Skull, he also wants to stick it to Captain America at the same time. He doesn't get to execute his plan because the Russians he is working with double cross Red Skull, killing him and taking the Cube for their own nefarious purposes.

While Cap is unraveling the Skull's plans with the help of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Russians are hatching their own plot, which includes their own bit of revenge on Captain America. Cap has some weird dreams and flashback to World War II events. They are weird because they come at inopportune times (like in the middle of fights) and don't seem to match the historical record. And Cap's WWII buddy, Bucky Barnes, is wrapped up in the intriguing nightmares and the modern day activity.

Anyone who has seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier knows that part of the story. The story in the book was written before the movie and clearly the filmmakers borrowed quite a bit from here. But the two stories are quite different and equally enjoyable. Brubaker's writing has lots of character depth if not character growth. The main mystery/conspiracy is intriguing and ends quite well.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Odessa Park, Maryland

We went to Ikea to look at some furniture and wound up finding some geocaches. Two caches are stashed in the parking lot. The kids had fun exploring for them. We parents weren't too worried since the caches are in the back parking lot, far from the customers' eyes. We checked for other local caches and discovered one in a nearby park, Odessa Park. The park is also known as Sunnyside Neighborhood Park and has a skate park, handball court, and playground. Naturally, we had to try out the playground after making our 396th find.

Playground at Odessa Park

We made our own line for the tall slide. At first our prescholar climbed to the top and was too afraid to go down the slide. Mom climbed up with him and helped him go down the first time. After that, he was ready to slide by himself again and again. And again and again and again.

Sliding down the slide

That last patch of leftover snow made for an extra-soft landing.

Big brother sliding

The park has some other fun climbing equipment, including plastic rock arches. Our older son was able to climb up easily but wasn't immediately sure how to get back down. After a little thinking and repositioning, he was able to get his feet back on the ground.

King of the arch

One spinner was fun for my daughter, though the circular motion was never quite smooth enough. She had me spin her which was a little tricky with a camera in one hand.

She spins! She scores!

The more minimalist seat-spinners were also popular with the older kids. They had fun spinning and then trying to walk in a straight line while still slightly dizzy.

Spin master

The park also has little rocking animals that are really too small for my bigger kids. The prescholar was too invested in the big slide to even try.

Too old for a rocking horse?

Realizing we are so close to discovering geocache #400, we will probably make a bigger effort to find more in the near future. Plus, there was a CD in the cache that asked to be moved on to another cache, so we will listen and send it on its way.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Spring Into Science 2018 at Savage Library

Our local library has a "Spring into Science" program for the pre-school crowd. My prescholar attended the first session where the theme was "hibernation." We read some books about bears coming out of hibernation. One was a cute book about a bear couple waking up for Valentine's Day, celebrating, and going back to sleep (the book was The Valentine Bears). The other book was Bear's Big Breakfast, where a newly awakened bear goes in search of food, being assisted by a bunny, a bee,  and eventually a boy who offers the bear berries. The craft was making a "b" book featuring the animals and the berries from the book. Work on the craft included using scissors to cut out the animal names, something our preschooler took a little too much delight in...

They let me use scissors!!

Gluing in the bear

Gluing in names with glee

In addition to the craft, the librarian also provided a science experiment. Bears eat a lot of food before hibernating to get a layer of fat on their bodies. The fat provides both energy and insulation against the cold winter. To demonstrate the insulating ability of fat, first we tried holding a ice cube in our bare (not bear) hands.

"It's cold, Daddy!" 

Next, we used ziplocks full of fat as an insulator (it was vegetable fat, not actual animal fat). It did do a great job insulating against ice.

"Am I even holding an ice cube?"

We finished up the craft by daubing some berries on the back page baskets.

Berry bashing boy

The final product

The second session we attended (which was the third in the series) had "tracks" as the theme. The librarian told us all about ways to track animals and things that they would leave behind. We read the book Moose Tracks!, about a home full of moose tracks. The book was written by Karma Wilson from The Bear series. We also did tracking bingo with a sheet of items an animal might leave (with items like web, skin, gnawed wood for spider, snake, and beaver).

Ready for bingo

The first stamp

The first craft we worked on was another book. This time, we made a book of animals and their footprints. Putting the book together was fun if fraught with peril since we used scissors again. We had a fun time stamping the footprints in at the end.

Gluing pictures into the book

Stamping the tracks into the book

One table had all sorts of animal leftovers, including sea shells, snake skins, feathers, and an abandoned bird's nest. My son's favorite thing on the table was the magnifying glass, which he said made me look like I was under water. My favorite thing was the snake skin where you could see the eye sockets!

Magnifying the fun

A shark tooth!

Feathers and the nest

snake skin

Close up of the head

Another craft was to make an outdoors scene with some animal tracks. All that was involved was some gluing and stamping, so it was much less stressful for me.

Gluing in the features

Stamping paw prints

Finished product

Making a silly face

We had a great time at both sessions and look forward to more library programs!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Book Review: Hellboy and The B.P.R.D. 1954 by M. Mignola et al.

Hellboy and The B.P.R.D. 1954 written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson, art by Stephen Green, Patric Reynolds, Brian Churilla, and Richard Corbin, colors by Dave Stewart

Four stories from Hellboy's early career at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense!

1. Black Sun--Hellboy and a team go to the Arctic to investigate a possible yeti sighting, though the scientific team there is divided over whether it was just a polar bear. The menace turns out to be neither after the team discovers a downed saucer (as in flying saucer). Hellboy gets inside and it sinks, leading to an even weirder adventure. I liked how the story kept shifting ground with each twist.

2. The Unreasoning Beast--A man's brother died in a fire and the brother's pet monkey (who also died) is haunting him. The story goes by quickly and is not nearly as weird as a typical Hellboy tale. It does deliver the melancholy, though.

3. Ghost Moon--Hellboy is sent to China as a favor to Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones, head of the British equivalent of the B.P.R.D. In Hong Kong, it's the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, the titular Ghost Moon. The locals celebrate a "Hungry Ghost Festival" where spirits come back from the afterlife in search of food and entertainment. A local British import/export business had been looking for a Hunping, a funerary urn or spirit jar, and they have run into trouble. Usually, there's one jar per spirit, but this particular jar is collecting lots of spirits, especially in this month. The story has a lot of fun mythology and a typical Hellboy ending.

4. The Mirror--Hellboy goes in search of the Mirror of Saint-Bouget. Saint-Bouget is a lost French town where a rich man's daughter became a witch who consorted with demons. When the dad came with the local priest to confront her, the demons fled with the girl into a mirror. The priest blessed the mirror and trapped them inside. The story isn't much more than that--just a showcase for Richard Corbin's moody and evocative art.

I liked Ghost Moon the best. All the stories are fun and spooky--typical Hellboy storytelling.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Movie Review: Agatha Christie's Crooked House (2017)

Agatha Christie's Crooked House (2017) directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner

Agatha Christie's novel, Crooked House, is given a lavish treatment. Private investigator Charles Hayward (Max Irons) is approached by former lover Sophia Leonides (Stephanie Martini) to investigate her grandfather's death, which she believes was murder. Aristide Leonides was a Greek immigrant to England who became quite wealthy by developing a restaurant and catering business. He had two sons, Philip and Roger, and three grandchildren. They all live at Three Gables (the titular crooked house), under the grandfather's rather oppressive thumb. His first wife died and he met his second, much younger wife in Las Vegas where she was a dancer. The death looks like poisoning and suspicion naturally falls on the seeming gold digger of a wife. The rest of the family has plenty of acrimony toward the old man and each other. Hayward has no shortage of suspects and only a few days before Scotland Yard will sweep in and expose family secrets along with the murder.

The plot is fairly intricate, which is only natural for a Christie story, and provides a lot of classic twists and shifts in suspicion. The cast gives fine performances and the estate looks beautiful. The time is mid-1950s, so the film has a bit of the clash of youth culture (popular music and dancing) with the estate life of England's upper class. The ending is shockingly bleak (and true to the novel if Wikipedia is to be believed) which may be why the movie didn't get much of a theatrical release. I hadn't heard of it when it came up on the local library's list of new DVD releases. I enjoyed watching it once but probably won't watch it again unless socially.

Recommended as a rental.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Book Review: Saint Joseph Shadow of the Father by Andrew Doze

Saint Joseph Shadow of the Father by Andrew Doze

Andrew Doze looks at both the history and the theology of Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ. The book is both fascinating and frustrating.

The historical account is eye-opening. The Church, in its earliest years, was focused on Jesus as true God and true man, so reflections on Joseph's fatherhood are scant if not completely non-existent. How Jesus has God as His Father was much more important to work out at the time. Pious imagining saw Joseph as an old widower with children from a previous marriage. Little progress was made through the Middle Ages. Joseph's first big break came with Teresa of Avila, who adopted him as a spiritual father and had a devotion to him. Saint Francis de Sales and Monsieur Olier became champions of Joseph in the 1600s. Pope Pius IX declared Joseph patron of the universal church in 1870 (during the First Vatican Council). The Lourdes visionary, St. Bernadette Soubirous, also had a deep connection to the Holy Family and thus to Saint Joseph. Knowledge, interest, and devotion to Saint Joseph developed through the centuries and is on going.

After his historical survey, Doze presents a more theological understanding. He structures his work around the seven levels in Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle. I found this part of the book hard to follow since I haven't read or studied Teresa of Avila and Doze seems to assume a deep understanding of that work as a mirror to his own presentation. He discusses Joseph's trust in the angelic messages he receives and his guidance of Jesus through the hidden years of His life. He writes quite beautifully of the reunion of the Holy Family in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve and was found in the temple discussing theology with the rabbis and scholars. Jesus humbly went down afterwards to Nazareth to grow in "wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man." [Luke 2:52] Doze's book didn't leave me with a full or coherent bigger picture, only lots of little insights.

He did leave me with a desire to learn more about Sts. Bernadette and Teresa of Avila. Perhaps I will revisit this book after more time and more reading.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wizards vs. Pacers 2018

My son's school had tickets for the family night at the Washington Wizards basketball game on March 17, 2018. The Wizards were playing the Indiana Pacers, a close rival. It was an exciting game.

Like last year, we had the inexpensive, high up seats in the stadium. Unlike last year, no good samaritan gave us better tickets, so we staying in the nose-bleed seats.

View from our seats

My son chilling before the game

The stadium had the typical pre-game activity going on--players warming up and a little indoor blimp flying around.

Testing the camera's zoom feature

Blimp or car--you make the call!

One of the challenges with high up seats is deciding weather to watch the jumbotron or the actual action on the court. Before the game, they had one of many ceremonies honoring people at the game, including two children named honorary co-captains of the Wizards for the night.

Captains easier to see on the big screen than on the court

With preliminaries done, they were ready to start the game. That included introducing each of the starting players with their own bursts of flame!

Lights swirling around the stadium

These players are on fire!

The mascot was not introduced but he kept wandering in and out of our attention span. So did the cheerleaders.

Mascot cracking someone up

Actual view of the mascot from our seats--choose the jumbotron

Cheerleaders warming up the crowd

The game started with a slow build in the action. The teams were fairly even during the first half.

View is about the same on the jumbotron and in real life

During one of the commerical breaks, they presented a Dunkin' Donuts race on the jumbotron, which was the same race we had seen before at Camden Yards during a Baltimore Orioles game. Not very exciting.

Donut run without a delivery=no fun

Another commercial found the Wizards and Geico honoring a woman from Boys and Girls Club, which was nice.

Surrounded by mascots

Jumbotron view

They also played a game called Hot or Cold, where a lucky audience member would be blindfolded and the crowd had to guide her to the mascot at the center of the court. Well, they secretly replaced the mascot with the girl's uncle who just got back from deployment. It was a touching surprise.

Hot or Cold contest kickoff


During another commercial break, they had another challenge, this time for the players and in honor of Saint Patrick's Day. The jumbotron displayed an "Irish or Not?" slide and then showed the players trying to guess if certain items were Irish or not.

You ready for this?

Wrong guess, Kelly!

Tomas didn't even know who Ed Sheeran was (neither did I, so I don't blame him)

Bradley rightly identifies curling as not Irish

The Irish may not forgive him for this mistake

Something is out of sync here

During half time, we went in search of snacks. The pretzels weren't hot yet so we bought some chicken tenders and fries. Since the stadium is sponsored by Capital One, the concession stand gave us a ten percent discount on the food for using our Capital One credit card.

During the final half, the game became more exciting as the Wizards developed a slim lead. At another commercial break, they had the weirdest contest I ever saw--the human bobble head contest. Guys had pedometers strapped to their heads and they had to nod up and down as fast as they could for thirty seconds. Thirty seconds doesn't sound like a long time, but let me assure it was.

Advantage jumbotron

Later, some restaurant got in on the action. Chick-fil-A had parachuting snacks. Being in the nose-bleed seats, we looked down on the people getting the prizes.

Parachuting chickens!

Local bar and restaurant chain The Green Turtle had a shell game that one fan got to play. She won thanks to the crowd helping her out.

Shell game with virtual turtle shells!

Cheerleaders in their second half outfits

The Pacers had a bit of a comeback late in the game but then the Wizards opened up a wide lead, leaving them triumphant with a score of 109 to the Pacers' 102.

More game action

The big finale

We had a fun time and got new t-shirts. Unlike last year, I was smart enough not to ask what size they recommended. Last year they gave me a medium which was too small for me (though it was the tallest stack of t-shirts by far). I asked for a large and got one that I can wear without it being too tight.

T-shirt giveaway

We had a great time and will probably go back again next year.