Tuesday, June 30, 2009

JCVD (bad dubbing meets art cinema)

When our house signed up for phone/internet/cable recently, we received some free "on demand" rentals - one of which we used last night to watch JCVD. I'm not sure we would have gone out of our way to rent it, but at least with a free rental you can take a risk. I won't lie though, I have not-so-secretly wanted to watch this film since I first saw the trailer, and I heard it got good reviews at TIFF.

So we watched, and to my surprise I only had one major complaint: our on demand provider only offered a dubbed version. I will say this once and for all:

To me, there is nothing I hate more in the cinematic world than a dubbed film. Give me subtitles or give me nothing.

It wasn't the best film I've seen (it wasn't supposed to be), but it was more than expected. When you thought it would be stunts and action, it was quiet introspection on the ugly side of international fame and glory. When you thought it was quiet and morose, it sandwiches you with offbeat and inglorious action. I will give Van Damme credit - he managed to poke fun at his entire canon, spoof himself, and pull off his greatest acting effort in... well... ever.

Amidst the slow moving chaos of the film, Van Damme is elevated above set - out of scene and in front of the camera - and gives a fantastic monologue on all the roads his life has taken, and the different realms of brokenness each led to. He acknowledges that this is a film, and the reason we're watching is because of his former stardom, and his crash and burn. For a moment I thought I was watching Liv Ullman's Alma in Bergman's Vargtimmen - speaking beyond the scope of the camera.

Here's something I never thought I would write: Van Damme was moving and poignant as he spoke about how he became addicted to drugs (because he loved a woman who did them), and how much he's lost to women and multiple marriages (each one took a different part of him). I'll let others decide if he's waxing biographical or hamming it up for the lens.

I think the following people would enjoy this film:
1. Andrew Chambers, Lars Janssen, and Mark Wierzbicki (ol' Central folk).
2. Jeff Biggs
3. Anyone who enjoys film for film's sake.

Here's something else I never thought I would write: a blog post about Jean Claude Van Damme.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wim Wenders on God

"I have been away from God for a large part of my life, so I remember his absence. No, that’s the wrong way to say it. He wasn’t absent, I was. I had gone into exile of my own free will. I meandered through all sorts of philosophies, surrogate enlightenments, adventures of the mind, socialism, existentialism, psychoanalysis (another ersatz religion). Some of these I won’t deny or badmouth. I’m happy to have been there—and back."
Check out his fantastic article on belief here.

Exodus sounds way cooler than "These Are The Names…"

On to book two of the summer challenge: Exodus. Here are some reflections.

Much like many of the scenes in Genesis, I think the whole escape/deliverance from Egypt would make for a spectacular film (Prince of Egypt = watered down for kids; The Ten Commandments = admittedly more of an anti-communist/pro-American agenda than an accurate one). Interacting with all the murdering, slaughtering, and pestilence makes me openly wonder if we get this right by watering it down for children. Should we not let kids read it until they’re older, or tell them what the text is really saying? That will be a conversation I’ll save until I’m a papa I guess.

Alright, so I’m sucked into the story at the beginning because it’s all being masterfully told when lined up with Genesis. Joseph does some great things while in Egypt, but his consolidation of all the land for Pharaoh sets up some power struggles generations later (slavery). It’s bad times for the Hebrews, even though they keep growing and growing and growing in size, like the stars in the sky (cough cough, Abe). By the time they leave, I’m thinking this is some pretty epic story telling.

THEN I get to the laws. The ten commandments serve as a good refresher, but then I start reading into some of the later laws and man I was getting angry, frustrated, and down right irritated. Slaves are still allowed, and have little rights. Women have little rights and are often used as vessels for growing a man’s family/workforce. Gross. Patriarchy is reigning supreme, and it’s unsettling. Once again, does anyone remember the beginning of Genesis? Also, the way the law is dictated, it sometimes seems like the line between God and human commanding gets blurred. It’s unsettling because this stuff is pretty foundational to many people’s beliefs, and I’m not enjoying the read.

BUT, I remind myself, I need to look at these laws through the lens of what the rest of the world was like. In a polytheistic world where innumerable gods means innumerable views of ethics, morality, justice, a law is being set up that – though many parts make 21st century Dave cringe, it probably would have been freeing to Hebrews hearing it. One God is laying it down in ways that show up the other nations and their god-kings.

So while there is slavery still, freedom is granted after six years penalty free. So while there is patriarchy still, a man can’t forsake his wife of old for the next desirable wife he takes on (On this note, while polygamy seems permitted here, there has yet to be an example of a polygamous context that sees healthy relationship [Is there ever?]. One man + one woman = one flesh; one man + many women = hatred, resentment, deceit, jealousy, etc.). So while putting people to death is allowed, a measure of justice is produced that introduces consequences into society. It’s not the ideal, but lets remember that we keep choosing out of the ideal, so this seems to be the band aid solution until something brings the ideal back to the forefront.

Perhaps 21st century B.C.E. Dave would love this law (is it 21st B.C.E.? I don’t know), but I’m uneasy if it remained as is.

If you are an engineer, you might enjoy the final part of book with all the instructions on what to build. For me, it was tedious and undesirable to read. Except the narrative gem in chapter 35 on vision, willingness, and generosity.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. While Moses got the tablets on the mountain, the people made a golden calf (reverting back to their polytheistic ways again), and Moses leads a group of people on a slaughtering purge of the unfaithful. Brothers kill brothers. Lots of blood. Thousands die.

But seriously, things are looking better…

Monday, June 22, 2009

In the beginning, there was Genesis

I've just begun a journey into the depths of Hebrew scriptures today, as I endeavour to read the entire Hebrew Bible/Old Testament/whatever you may want to call it, this summer. Today I started and finished Genesis. I've studied parts of Genesis before, but today's reading was more to soak in the bigger story rather than glean all the intricacies (for that in itself could take an entire summer). Now I'm not going to commit to writing a blog for every book that I read, but I thought today's reading was worthy of reflection for the following reason: Anyone who thinks the bible isn't scandalous is ridiculous, and really should give this a read before you jump to such conclusions. Here were some interesting things I read about that would make the critical theorists cringe, the bible-thumpers ponder, and the puritans blush:

1. The beginning of the story, with multiple creation stories, sets the scene for created intent; a created intent that does not praise patriarchy or male headship, but equality. Yes, I'm saying that the foundation of Judeo-Christian belief is in equality being inherent to a good creation as it is intended to be. It actually seems like a really good setup.
2. God is first introduced as a plurality, made manifest singularly.
3. God promises a lot to people, and very rarely do they believe at first. It usually takes entire life times to fully believe.
4. Murder seems to be everyone's third favourite past time (casualties include Abel; the guy that ticked off Lamech; Hamor, Shechem, and all strong men with them who were recently weakened after being circumcised; Joseph - though this was faked)
5. Deception and trickery seems to be everyone's second favourite past time (everything about Jacob's life; Lot's daughters; all Jacob's son's; Tamar; Joseph's scheme)
6. Sex, sex, and more sex seems to top the priority list - and often not in the best scenarios (familial relationships don't seem to provide boundaries; prostitutes/in-laws/cousins/strangers to town/concubines/servants/multiple wives [oh how they departed from equality quickly]).
7. Similarly, there's a story about a guy who dies because he lets his semen hit the ground rather than fulfill his family duty to conceive with his dead brother's wife.
8. It's amazing how much damage that those two emissaries from God wrought on Sodom and Gomorrah. That would be quite the interesting story to film.
9. Funny how there's a promise for nations to multiply early on, then barrenness sets in for periods and everyone tries to reason their way around it, and lo and behold, the reasoning never works out well and multiplication takes place regardless. Point God...
10. "Reuben... don't you think for a minute that Dad was clueless about you laying with Bilhal. He wasn't impressed then, and he isn't impressed now."

In summary, the story begins with a really really nice setup scene, and then tons and tons of bad sex/violence/deception/conflict enters the picture. And yet, through it all, God still cares for the people, and seems to be trying to teach them something about dependency and belief. I can only imagine how many Christians would be offended with what they saw if a literal interpretation of this was conveyed on film, and how many non-Christians would be intrigued by the story that is far more scandalous and involving than first perceived.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On the loose!

Isn't this a nice picture? It's me, in all my academic delight, back in fourth year university with my trusted porcelain dog named Dog. What a good dog Dog is.

Some people might find it odd to have a porcelain dog named Dog. Some might laugh or have disdain toward our camaraderie over the years. Some might even think that his presence where ever I live is the lingering result of childhood sentimentalism, in line with the framed picture of ALF that hangs in my hallway today (and was my first garage sale purchase as a child). This last bunch is the closest to the truth.

There is an interesting story behind Dog's appearance in my life. Dog was not a flea market, garage sale, or Value Village purchase that I've kept by my side as an ongoing, long-winded, joke. No, Dog's origin is far more significant.
Dog came into my life as one of the only remaining memories of my great-grandmother after she died. As awkward and peculiar as Dog might look, Dog is a tie
that links me to the part of my family that came from Waterford, Ontario. Dog may be small and frail, but Dog also has a perma-snarl. If anyone knew my great-grandmother, they'd realize why Dog would be a great link to my fading memories of the small, frail, perma-snarly "Great-Grammy Hyde" before she died.

So why am I telling the story of Dog? Well, the night before I left for a mini-vacation last Saturday morning, someone took Dog. Someone thought Dog needed a vacation. That same someone made a blog about Dog's adventures. I miss Dog, and am eagerly awaiting Dog's return - but in the meantime I will be tracking Dog's moves online.

Please visit dogsvacationblog.wordpress.com, and demand Dog's return!


Friday, June 12, 2009

The Lament of Alyosha

A couple of days ago I finished reading the part in Karamazov where Alyosha's family has shamed him in front of Zosima, and he is in a state of shock, embarrassment, and utter brokenness. Going in frightened, but with the hope that Zosima will help bring peace and resolution to the family, Alyosha silently watches things unravel and we get the sense that he is devasted. While I read this, I was overwhelmed with sadness for his character.

A few days later I found myself in a heated exchange that was less about me than it was about the brokenness that inhabits our world (side note: I'm so very glad that the gospel trumps patriarchy, though the process of that truth being lived out often seems arduous). In the context the discussion took place, so many of the elements and reactions paralleled the Karamazov's descent into futher brokenness, and I ended up finding myself playing Alyosha. Silently I listened to heated words echoing a dining room, and descended lower and lower into the sadness that marked each opinion. I was being attentive (see earlier post), and the story I kept hearing was heartwrenching. The story is steeped in so much pain, and in all honesty, if there was no gospel to cling to then the arduous road would seem pointless. It is at times like these that, though many tune out when I talk of God, or condescendingly balk at my belief in the resurrection of Christ, I am ever greatful for God's love, God's intent, and God's good news - even when it's hard to see.

There are days in which the hope of God and his kingdom is abundant and apparent. There are days where it seems so far off. There are days when Ecclesiastes does not do justice. Then there are days when you read Dostoevsky, and Dostoevsky reads you.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Marked by a community.

I had a great time in Hamilton spending time with my church community this weekend! Most of Saturday was spent at a going away party for me and two other friends from the church, and it felt like a fun-filled family reunion of sorts. The youth that I worked with all year were there and playing football in the afternoon (more on that later), while the adults were BBQ'in and conversing over a variety of cold beverages. Rather than go into a whole speech about how great it was to see Christians enjoying each other's company with a glass of wine or a beer in hand, and it not being taboo, I'll say that glimpses of the kingdom of God, in it's glorious fellowship and relationship, were present that day. Then, of course, the evening ended with another glorious event - the Red Wings win 5-0! - but I won't pour too much salt into that wound for Pens fans.

Sunday started by being chauffered to church (there's a reason for this), enjoying a really nice final service with my church family, followed by an afternoon of bocce ball, and a final small group meeting for the young adults in the evening. All in all it was a fantastic way to end my time at St. John's, and I can't say enough how grateful I am for the people I've met, the hospitality I've felt, and the kingdom experiences I've had there. Transitioning from this community will be extremely difficult, but I feel sent in a very supportive way by them.

Okay, now back to that football game. It was an epic game, the reprecussions of which are still being experienced today. Myself, Jeff (the other male youth leader), and the youth girls decided to take on the youth guys in a game of touch football. The guys came out to an early lead, but I was determined not to let that last too long. On one glorious play, I tracked the eyes of their young quarterback and prepared myself to pick off his faux-Hail-Mary pass. The pass was launched. My eyes never left the ball. I beelined it to the side of the endzone, threw my two hands up in the air, and picked off the football before anyone else had the chance. Immediately I experienced the consequences of running without being aware of the ground around, and collided with a large wooden lawn chair (that had acted as a marker of the endzone). Impact number one took my feet out and propelled me forward. Impact number two was when my face collided with large wooden lawn chair number two. At this point the ball fell helplessly from my hands, and many gasps were heard from the field and from the spectators.

"Wow, that really smarts," I thought as I picked myself up. People came looking to see blood and tears, but I wiped myself off and said I was fine, and returned to play. Then Jeff told me I was bleeding from my mouth, so I decided to rinse my mouth out and then return to the game. While inside the house, I noticed a rather large hole inside my lip where my upper canine tooth very obviously punctured. There was a new, loose, inner lip flap that was sore and bleeding a bit, but it didn't bother me. I returned to play, only to find I had been replaced by a father of one of the youth, so I gladly sat out and allowed my sore body to recover, and for my open wound in my mouth to be 'sterilized' with some red wine (always a good choice).

About 30 minutes later, while chatting with Jeff again over some food, he noticed that there was blood underneath my moustache. It is at this point that we discover that not only did my canine tooth take a chunk of my inner lip out, but it in fact went right through my lip upon impact. Yes, my tooth went right through my lip. The exit wound was luckily small, so it scabbed over and no stitches were needed.

About 15 minutes after that, I mentioned that my feet were starting to get sore. I looked down and saw that my right foot was cut up, and my left foot had ballooned into a purple, swelled-up mass. I had honestly not noticed until that point, and immediately felt the mobility of my left foot rapidly decreasing. Much was made of the injury by all around, with various suggestions on how to treat it. I ended up icing the foot for two hours, and then eventually had it taped up. I would say that the flexibility and mobility of the foot was down to 10% without pain.

About 10 minutes after first noticing the foot, we all realized that I also had cut my forehead in the collision, and so now there is also a minor scab on my forehead near the hairline.

But back to the lip. I became freakshow entertainment for all the youth, as they asked to come see the gaping hole inside my mouth. Many pictures were taken, and many disgusted faces were made.

Again to the foot. I ended up being chauffered to my friends home that evening, and after sleeping that night, woke up with my foot feeling much much better. I would say that flexibility and mobility was back up to 40-50% without pain. After church I was even able to spend the afternoon playing bocce ball, followed by walking around downtown Hamilton, followed by helping my new housemate Fil move his old BBQ down two incredibly long and steep flights of stairs to bring back to Toronto that night. Flexibility went up to about 60% by the end of the night. So I took the tape job off and went to bed.

Right now, I am writing from my bed, with a newly tensored foot after waking up in pain. I think I overexerted myself yesterday and am now paying the consequences. Oh well. It makes for a good story, and tangible proof of the way I've been marked by this Hamilton community I've come to care for so much.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

First Night in Toronto!

Here's what happened a couple of nights ago, on my first night in Toronto.

1. Went to the CN Tower for dinner, despite my intense fear of heights.
2. Watched a thunderstorm pass, and then watched the sunset from the top.
3. Had the Mac staff team offer to buy me Lost Season 5 on DVD if I would lay down on the glass floor face down and look for 5 seconds.
4. Unable to follow through on the offer, but was walked backwards on to the floor by Pete.
5. Went home, changed my pants, and watched Detroit win game one of the Stanley Cup.