Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Review: When God Made You

When God Made You Hardcover – February 28, 2017

  • Age Range: 3 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 2
  • Hardcover: 48 pages
  • Publisher: WaterBrook (February 28, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1601429185
  • ISBN-13: 978-1601429186

  • This is one of those Christian picture books that challenges social issues by not making a big deal about it.

    There really isn't a story per se. The book follows a little girl on her creative adventure through the park. She has a little sister whom she loves and the story begins in the world as we know it, then her creativity connects to the entire universe....as creativity is wont to do. After the creative adventure, it returns to the bedroom of the two siblings with the older sister reading to the younger sister.

    It's a picture book that celebrates creativity and individuality. Let's face it, although we Christians often go about saying that God made us all different, the truth is that often the artistic spirit is not celebrated in some homes because many people can be quite rigid and they like having their children conform to normalcy. The story reads like a blessing given from a parent to a child, or as a blessing given from an older sibling to a younger one.

    I liked this book. The little black child on the cover is also a treat. We need more books with Black characters, even if the artist and writer are white.

    The illustrations are vivid, and --like the story itself-- rhapsodic.  The language is accessible although there are a few words (such as cyclone, and glory) that will need to be explained to younger kids. It's written in rhyme

    One of the best lines:
    'Cause when God made you, thus much is true
    The world got to meet who God already knew.

    I highly recommend this book. I received this book free in exchange for a free and honest review.


    Matthew Paul Turner is the best-selling author of "When God Made You," "Churched,"and "Hear No Evil." He, and his wife, Jessica, along with their kids, Elias, Adeline, and Ezra, live in Nashville, Tennessee.

    Thursday, November 16, 2017

    Review: a box of awesome things matching game

    a box of awesome things matching game
    wee society
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten - 12
  • Game: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter; Brdgm edition (September 26, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1524759546
  • ISBN-13: 978-1524759544

  • This is not a book but a collection of 20 pairs of matching cards. The cards are about 2 inches b 2 inches and are brightly colored with images created with that trademark stylized minimalist geometric art that wee society does. So it's basically a matching game. 

  • On the surface, the set seems a bit arty. I'm not sure that young kids would recognize some of the pictures being depicted, even though they could match them. Older kids would recognize the trapdoor card, the skull with the eyepatch, and the lava flow mountain. And i guess those things are pretty awesome in their own right. But for me, i was expecting more. Kids who are young will be able to see the patterns, older kids will understand what all the patterns mean.

  • I guess if you're looking for a matching set, this is good and less complicated than a deck of cards. 

  • The pictures are cute and the cards are on heavy-duty glossy stock. There are words that go along with the pictures so kids who are learning to read will like it. It's not that expensive at only $10 on amazon, so if you're looking for a good present for kids this would be a good set. You can't find many educational kid toys for ten dollars nowadays. I'd recommend it for holiday stocking stuffers or gifts.

  • This was given to me free in exchange for a fair and honest review.   
  • Sunday, August 06, 2017

    Review: NIV Beautiful Word Coloring Large Print Bible

    Okay, I'll admit it. I wasn't too thrilled at the thought of this Bible. Which is weird because I'm always marking up and writing in my Bibles. When my Bible starts looking like a rainbow-colored ultra-highlighted mess, I know it's time to start scrawling in another one.

    But the more I think about this Bible, the more I like it.

    First, there are those verses to color. Many of the verses are the big ones that every Christian knows and every Christian parent wants their kids to know. Some of these verses have great calligraphy, some are not really colorable because they are more about design than fill-in-the space coloring. But most of them are words and pictures that one can color. My caveat would be to use colored pencils or crayons, NOT magic markers. I can see Sunday School or Bible Class teachers copying some of these pictures for their students' use in their classes. How easy it is to memorize a Bible verse if you're coloring it. Those who like coloring, will find coloring the page meditative.

    Secondly, this is a large print Bible. It's not Extra large print but it is an easy read for kids and normal folks.

    Thirdly, this Bible has generous columns on each page, with ruled lines, for note-taking. It's a pretty heavy Bible so --unless you're accustomed to carrying around large Bibles-- you might have to leave this at home and use it for family Bible study and note-taking.

    This Bible comes with a strong heavy cloth cover and a ribbon placeholder.  I have often wished that Zondervan would quit using the same all-purpose preface it uses in all its Bibles. This time around they added a neat "Letter from the Editor" which helps the reader feel that the reason for this Bible.

    So, yeah, I'm liking this Bible a lot.

    I was given this Bible free in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

    Friday, June 23, 2017

    Review: NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible

    NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible, Hardcover, Full Color Interior: Explore the Story of the Bible---People, Places, and History Hardcover – June 6, 2017
    • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
    • Grade Level: 3 - 7
    • Hardcover: 1952 pages
    • Publisher: Zonderkidz (June 6, 2017)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0310758602
    • ISBN-13: 978-0310758600

    This Bible is set up as follows:
    Table of Contents 
    The Bible
    Table of weights and measures
    Infographics index
    Maps index
    Color Maps

    This is a good Bible, with great explanatory notes on almost every page. It has a sturdy hardcover. The pictures, photographs, and graphs are good and helpful, depicting certain fundamental truths carefully.  The notes are especially informed and insightful. They will definitely help readers understand the Bible.

    So, if this Bible has all these good things, why am I not really impressed with it as a Bible for kids? It might just be me being picky but what we have here is a marketing failure.

    First: The title. The word "kids" implies (at least to me) that the book is for tweens and under. This book is more fit for 13 year olds and over. The title is misleading because one expects a kid-friendly book for littler kids.

    Second: "Visual." This Bible has many pictures but it's not really as visual as all that.

    Third: the lightness and size of the font. The font is light and small. It should be darker and larger .Even teens will have a problem with this font. The column for the notes should be smaller, and the column where the actual Bible is written should be larger. That might've helped the font issue.

    Fourth: A general laziness. If this Bible is to be presented to a child, the design and presentation should have been better. For instance, the preface isn't written for kids. I'm not sure but it might be the same-old same-old  preface . Why? Shouldn't they have gotten a kid-friendly kid-understandable version of that preface?

    This leads to my FIFTH complaint: The designers and editors of this book saw the trees, but not the forest. A kid's Bible should have a timeline, several in fact. In the front or back of the Bible, there should be overviews of the Bibles, of the kings, of Israel's history, of the prophets, of the miracles, of the parables. Kids haven't known it all or seen everything; they aren't like us older folks. There really should be more guides to the basics.

    Upshot: This book should have been called the TEEN'S STUDY BIBLE. A mere title change and this book would be perfect. Please do not buy this Bible for little kids or for kids with bad eyes.

    This book was given to me free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.


    Wednesday, June 07, 2017

    THE FAN: This Present Reality

    The Fan: This Present Reality
    By Carole McDonnell

    Hello there, Dear Readers, Watchers, and Fellow Creatives.

    No doubt you all understand the power of a passionate obsession. And, some of you might remember my embarrassing addiction to stories that send the viewer off into a rabbit-hole of dislocation. Well, I will just say that an obsession is not easily dropped. Lord knows, they’re even harder to drop if the obsessed has no intention of actually dropping the obsession. So, yes, I waded through my usual drama crack of singularities, quantum physics, string theory. Yep, films such as B4, Orange, Beautiful Prison, and Penitent Man. But, true to my promise to spare you my time-travel and dislocation rambles, I’m not gonna review any of that. Nor will I review Apocalypse Kiss which was my first --and, yes, undoubtedly my last-- venture into dystopian porny horror. (Yes, there are some things in this world that one’s mind cannot unsee.)  Instead, let’s get to the speculative stuff that entranced me this summer in the fantastic universe of creativity.  

    Embers --- Written by Claire Carre and Charles Spano. Directed by Claire Carre, J​ason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernández 2015  1 hour, 26 minutes ​Available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, YouTube

    I love living in these post-gatekeepers days. Sure, the big filmmakers/publishers/music companies are good at making big films, books, and music with big stars and blockbuster production. But there is something about indies. Yes, yes, some of them are pretentious, some are precious, most have bad acting. But, all that said, indies do tell some good stories sometimes.

    Embers was on Kickstarter and I’m sure the folks who donated to help this little indie are proud of it. The story takes place at some near-distant time in the future. It’s a few years after a viral pandemic killed much of the world’s population and left the rest with semi-amnesia. The survivors have forgotten their past memories and can’t create new memories. They remember certain basics or habits -- like how to ride a bike, how to speak their language, how to open the odd can of food they’ve found somewhere. But for the most part, their present memories tend to last about fifteen minutes, disappearing several times throughout the day and when they sleep.

    This is speculative fiction at its best, and the best aspect of speculative fiction is how it deals with the ramification and consequences of a particular idea. In this film, we follow several characters who have pretty much gotten used to their present circumstances. There is no whining about living in a bleak world, no grief about the loss of the old ways. Because no one remembers the old ways.

    So who are the main characters? Well, this is an indie film so we have “types” as opposed to characters. There’s a character called Chaos, who walks around chaoticly, doing chaotic things, in a chaotic state. Even with memory loss, he’s a nasty piece of work. Personality is resilient in this world, apparently, and an amnesiac with a selfish nasty personality will be selfish and nasty no matter what. We have “the lovers” who give each other new names every time they wake. They wear cloth bands made from the same material so they’ll know they’re supposed to be together. We have a nameless little boy who probably has known only this life. It’s not clear if he inherited the universal memory issues or has a kind of memory adapted to this world. There is a teacher/writer who lives in the woods. He is one of three characters who knows his own name. And the only reason he knows that is because it’s on a book he’s written and he’s consciously trying to train his mind to know how to remember. And there is a father and a daughter who have lived in a bunker since the outbreak began. The daughter wishes to explore the world outside the bunker but the father fears dangers and the loss of memory.

    A word about the tension in this film. This is one tense film, because there is mega-suspense in worrying about human issues such as separation, safety, isolation. But if you’re someone who has a problem with films where nothing big really happens, you will be bored to tears. This film is not altogether silent but don’t expect mega-dialog and action.

    Embers has received various awards in many film festivals and I’m glad the donors to its kickstarter campaign enabled me to see it. As I wrote earlier, the gatekeepers of distribution can no longer prevent art from reaching the masses. I accept that. For me, it means everything old is new again. The ancient paradigm of art was local; artisans shared their work with the neighbors and villages nearby. Then education, wealth, and the notion of fame came about, and artistry was joined to the idea of being super-famous.​ Now, in the internet age, we're back again to the roots of art distribution, to a smaller kind of fame. Yep some folks will have super contracts and mega wealth but most artists/singers/artisans/writers are happy to just share their stories in their little community and internet worlds. youtube, ebooks, indie films, fabric design places, etc. I wouldn't mind a few of my books being ultra-famous but I like this return to normal art-making. More films like this, books, music, etc for me to encounter. Kudos to Kickstarter.

    W --Two Worlds ---  Written by Song Jae-Jun Starring: Lee Jong-Suk, Han Hyo-Joo. 16 episodes. South Korean television series. July 2016 to September 2016. Fantasy, Suspense, Melodrama, Romance. Streaming online on viki.com and other sites.

    Korean dramas are nothing if not predictable. But every once in a (long) while, something unpredictable comes up. Don’t get me wrong; I like all the typical tropes. But I like organic storytelling as well. And nothing is better than organic speculative storytelling because there are so many ramifications and consequences and one’s heart just squees when a writer shows she’s aware of the implications of her story. This drama was written by my favorite Korean writer, the writer that brought the world Nine: Nine Times Time Travel and Queen InHyun’s Man, both dramas that dwelt with the rabbit trail of ramifications. In W - Two Worlds, the traveling is not between decades, centuries, or altered timelines. It’s about alternate realities: the characters in the real world versus the characters in the world of a webtoon which is being written by (at first) the real-world manga-writer.  

    The story of the webtoon goes off-the rails when Kang Chul, the hero of the popular manga W, refuses to die at the hand of his maker. In the comic book story, he has returned home to find his family brutally murdered. Next thing he (and the readers of the comic he lives in) knows, he is put on trial for their murder and a nemesis prosecutor is out to prove his guilt. Kang Chul decides to kill himself. Well, his creator decides to kill him. The character, however, is quite stubborn. Instead of jumping off the bridge which he was “drawn” to, he struggles to live. In spite of himself, the manga creator sees the pages of his drawing table and of the published webtoon  change before his eyes. He knows he has not drawn the story in this way and is furious that his character is insisting on living. Angry, he suddenly finds himself inside the manga --yes, yes, there are portals-- and tries to kill off Kang Chul directly. (This is reflected in the manga website.) After the Artist/Creator leaves the manga, Kang Chul’s desire to live drags someone else -- the daughter of the Creator-- into the manga world. This is Oh Yeon Joo, and Yeon Joo is destined to become the OTP. Why was she brought into this world? Well, like everyone else reading the webtoon, she wants the noble/perfect/vengeance-seeking Kang Chul to have his happy ending.

    And so, we are off. Other people --people inside the webcomic and people in the real world-- are affected by the story. For instance, two small but important examples. The manga creator had not created a killer with a face. In fact, he had no idea what the killer looked like or why the killer had killed Kang Chul’s family. It was a trope he wanted to use to help his character suffer. The manga-readers might have been crying out for the killer to have a face, reason, and personality -- heck, even the killer was crying out for that-- but not the Creator. Second example -- the love interest in the webtoon becomes unimportant because the hero of the comic -- Kang Chul-- has gone off-track by falling in love with a girl from the real world. What is the comic book female lead to do when her very reason for existence ceases to be? Well, she starts to disappear before her very eyes.

    This drama is a combination of mega and speculative fiction and watching the writers mine the tropes and possibilities of the premise is an absolute fun ride.  

    Ku_On  --- Director, Takayuki Hatamura; Actors: Haruna Isaoka,  Sou Sato, Nana Seino, Seiko Seno,  Hidemasa Shiozawa,  Shizuka,  Yusei Tajima; Genre: Science Fiction, Drama, Action  Japanese  2015  Amazon Prime
    First things first: This is not the Kuon horror video game or Ku-On, the horror cutscene video. (A hyphen, an underscore, or no hyphens at all can make a whole lotta difference.) First things over with.
    Second things second: If you’re anything at all like me, when you see a movie involving spirits possessing other folks’ bodies, you’re usually not on the Possesser’s side. You’re on the side of the folks whom the bodies rightly belong to. Par for the course. After all, none of us like thieves. But forget that pesky trope for the nonce. It’s not important in this flick. Okay, so that’s that.
    Some two hundred years ago, a meteorite fell on a village in Tokyo. The fallout -- yes, pun intended-- of that cosmic happening was that the descendants of certain villagers all now have the power (I won’t call it a “gift” because immortality does have its drawbacks) to jump out of the body they’re inhabiting and into the body of another person. The only caveat is that the “possessee” has to be the same sex. AND also the same age the possessor was when his gift manifested. Our hero realized he had this power when he was twenty-seven so he can only jump into are 27-year-old male bodies. There are other little rules but those are the basics that our hero needs to know and discovers at the beginning of the film.
    As luck would have it, our newbie possessor jumped into a new body and into a new life at the worst time possible.   One of their fellow immortals, a serial murderer, is scheduled to be transferred from one prison to another and has to be stopped. If there is anything worse than an immortal who steals bodies, it’s an immortal whose only joy in his immortality is murdering folks, especially seventeen-year-olds because that was his age when he first turned.
    So what we have here is a catch-the-serial-killer caper. Except that pursuers and pursued keep changing bodies. Think Fallen meets Highlander meets The One.
    Ya know what? I liked this. It was a fun little indie that knew what it wanted to accomplish and didn’t go wild doing unnecessary stuff. Lean and mean, that’s how I like my films. Of course, not every ramification of every speculation is always shown. And this movie is a clear example of ignoring consequences that aren’t necessary to the immediate plot. For instance, while we explore why such a community of immortals could be whittled down, there is the whole other issue of human bodies being taken over and discarded. So that could be problematical because one requires a certain amount of sang-froid and indifference to simply not care about those dead or comatose discarded bodies. Some questions, such as “What happens to the soul of the body’s original owner?” are not answered and perhaps would be if this were a series. We viewers don’t know if the original soul is repressed/conquered by the new spirit, squelched, nullified, and/or temporarily neutralized? And neither do we care. The ramifications don’t matter in that world, although they would in this present reality.
    Happy Creativity, all.

    Tuesday, May 09, 2017

    Review: Life After Heaven by Steven Musick

    Review: Life After Heaven by Steven Musick (with Paul J Pastor)
    How My Time in Heaven Can Transform Your Life on Earth
    • Paperback: 208 pages
    • Publisher: WaterBrook (March 7, 2017)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 1601429886
    • ISBN-13: 978-1601429889

    I liked this book a lot. Not because it's about near-death-experiences, though. I've read so many near-death experiences books and Jesus encounter stories that, while I love them and they do feed my faith, I'm not generally surprised by them any more. Jesus is always sweet, powerful, with beautiful eyes, and supernaturally good. Which of course, He should be because He is our savior. But after a while, it's the same old thing. So one needs to read these books for something other the recounting of the experience.

    In this case, this book's uniqueness is it's depiction of a sick person who endured a long sickness until he was healed. That is what really blessed me in this book. I like any book which shows that someone can be healed even after a long illness.

    Not all of us can endure long illnesses in a fairly good mood. This author managed. And, although many sick Christians wish to die in order to live with Jesus in heaven, Steven Musick endured life even though he wanted to die because he had already seen Jesus in heaven.

    I won't say how he became sick. But after his illness, he died. Jesus met him and Jesus is "okay" and all the bad things in Musick's life was made "okay" or blessed into okayness by a super-understanding and super-loving Jesus. (yes, I kinda wish the author didn't use the word "okay" to describe the healing presence of Jesus when Jesus healed his soul. It just feels so touchy-feely. The book's a great book, an inspirational read but... that "okay" kinda made me cringe.)

    Returning from heaven was difficult for Musick, but his experiences there continued to affect his life after he returned to his ill body. The love, power, and acceptance he saw when he walked with Jesus made him realize that heaven is always with us. The kingdom of God is everpresent and wishing to touch and overflow in our life on earth. There are few books that convey what the kingdom of God is as well as this book. In fact, there are very few books which actually try to show what the gospel of the kingdom is. This book does a good job.

     I recommend this book highly. I received this book free and without charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Review: Practicing the Power by Sam Storms

    Practicing the Power -- Welcoming the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your
    by Sam Storms
    • Paperback: 272 pages
    • Publisher: Zondervan (February 7, 2017)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0310533848
    • ISBN-13: 978-0310533849

    I liked this book a lot. It makes you feel: This is what a church should be like, this is what pastors should be teaching their congregation -- the riches of God's grace and the power of God in us who believe.

    If you're a Charismatic Christian, you've probably read tons of books on the gifts of the spirit. Usually these books are about the book author's journey and they are often limited to one gift of the spirit. So we have prophets writing books on prophecy, dreamers writing books on dreaming,  healers writing books on healing. Those books are all needed because those topics are pretty deep. But there are few books which can be used either for individual study, pastoral study, small groups, or larger communal church groups. This is one of them.

    The challenge for anyone --especially a pastor-- who would want to actually practice the Biblically-based counsel in this book is that the church habits, services, and traditions would have to change a little to accommodate them. This means pastors might have to give up their desire to be the main "minister" to the congregation and become more of the one who trains, guides, and orchestrates all members of the church to minister to each other.

    For instance, churches that only have the pastor pray for the sick, might have to give up some of their specialness (let's face it, many pastors like being the be-all and end-all and source and like running their little fiefs) and A) be Biblical in letting the elders/deacons pray for the sick and those who have shown that they have some gifts for healing. Although this isn't a book that teaches all aspects of healing (even deliverance is included) or prophesy or all aspects of any of the gifts, its chapters guide the reader into how to practice the gifts decently and in order yet in a way where the Holy is actually present to work. 

    This book will teach pastors and church members how to guide the prophets, workers of miracles, healers, faithers to develop, recognize, and use their gifts. It will also teach them how to understand how God wishes to work in each church and how each gift is to be used. How many of us have heard some so-called prophetess say something that is supposed to be a prophecy and felt uneasy about it? This book definitely shows the pitfalls of wrong prophets, prophesying, and prophesies. I especially liked the part where the author addresses how to use, understand, recognize spontaneous "spiritual songs" in the middle of the service. This is definitely the kind of book Paul might have given to the Corinthian church.

    This book is definitely a challenge, but for those of us who want to be in a church that is as Biblical as possible it's a great book and an easy read. Who doesn't want to be in a church that does church the way God designed it
    I was given this book free and without charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2017

    The Fan: Microcosm and Macrocosm -- Human Woundedness from A(lienated) to Z(ootopia)


    Alienated 2016. Writer/Director: Brian Ackley. Producer: Brian Ackley, Princeton Holt, and Cassandra Riddick. Actors: Taylor Negron, George Katt, and Jen Burry. Streaming on Amazon Prime  

    First thing first. Let me say that yes, there is an alien invasion in this film and in the long run it probably doesn’t really matter. Yep, that’s a spoiler but I kinda doubt if anyone who watches this movie will care about that -- after he reads my review. It’s a good flick -- or at least it was liked by yours truly. But do not go into this movie thinking we have a scifi movie on your hands.

    Meet Paige who is married to  Nate. Conspiracy theorist, visionary, isolationist, artist, possibly self-involved, Nate has seen what he thinks is a spacecraft. Trouble is: Nate is trying to get Paige to understand and Paige is having none of it. These two are in a communication and marriage meltdown. Whether it’s because Paige doesn’t understand Nate’s artistic spirit or feels just plain jealous and slighted, it’s hard to tell. At least in the beginning. Sure, Nate includes h himself in all his paintings. The artist part of me can kinda understand that. The characters in my novels pretty much resemble me in parts. And don’t all artists basically do art about themselves? So yeah, I understand Nate a bit. But there’s also the other side. And if there is one thing about this movie it’s that there is always the other side -- a side which the viewer sees, but which the active participants in this marital breakdown are reluctant to see. The other side is this: Well, why the heck is is putting himself in all his pictures? Can’t he vary his drawing style a bit? Why is he putting himself in a painting which he is giving to Denise, the widow of his best friend? Yes, yes, I get it: he is showing her he identifies with loss. Or he is showing loss itself. But dangnabbit, if you sense that your wife is jealous of the woman...you might want to rethink that whole art project.  And really why are the lights on the spacecraft like the lights on your painting to Denise? Is there something you don’t know about yourself, Nate?

    Why continue willfully on your own way if you sense the discussion is really about something else? And “sense” is the operative word here. One gets the feeling as one listens to this long painfully grievous conversation --yep! This entire film is a conversation-- that one needs to be willing to sense the other person’s side and that these folks are fully capable of willing themselves to….but they just have reached the point where they don’t want to will themselves to understand any more.

    I swear this movie would be good for a marriage counseling class. Again, I repeat, the whole alien invasion thing has very little to do with the plot. It doesn’t mean the film is bad. It’s a very good, very harrowing, very painful film. Just...well, if you see it on AmazonPrime, it’s best to know what you’re getting into. So back to our marriage problems:, Nate can decide to perceive Paige as jealous or as needing affirmation. Paige can decide to see Nate as an artist or as self-centered.

    But let’s get to the third character: Griffin, this odd guy next door who -- for all we know may or may not exist. Griffin is the kind of neighbor who asks the kind of deep questions folks in indie films ask. Thing is: he kinda knows an awful lot about Nate, who seems to be the only one who sees him. Is Griffin an angel? Is he God? I don’t think he’s God or even an alien. Griffin is the kind of character who can either make or break an indie film because, heck, he gives us a sermony voiceover at the end.

    The ending is an open-ending. We don’t see any human bodies so it’s possible our lovers still exist and are alive on another planet somewhere. Heck, they might have been raptured! Thing is though: the earth doesn’t seem destroyed, just kinda ya know… emptied. And if it is emptied, or --heck-- if our main characters are dead...at least they are together and committed to being willing to understand each other.

    I remember the days when alien invasion movies ended with humans triumphing over their reptilian exo-skeletoned baddies. Heck, I remember the days when the earth survived all kinds of disasters. Not so, now. It has often been said that if we Earthers were to be challenged by a larger looming evil --heck, if we Americans were all challenged by some external evil-- we would all finally join together. Uhm, I’m not sure of that. Human willfulness and selfishness are both pretty strong. So in the end, our main characters come to terms with their lives and with the changes to their world. Is that a good thing? And if so, how? Is harmony between humans, come what may, all that matters?

    Producers: Monica Lago-Kaytis, John Lasseter, Brad Simonson, Clark Spencer; Directors and Writers: Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Rich Moore; Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Animation 2016

    Now, perhaps it’s me. But I find myself thinking there is something else to Zootopia other than the much-praised meta-animated discussion of racism. And don’t get me wrong! I do love the film’s insights into multiculturalism and racial dynamics in a cosmopolitan world. And hey! It’s a good mystery and great animation! Some of the racial subtexts were so good I actually had to google the writers to see if any of them were Black. Example: As a Black woman, I’ve had white folks --notably-- my white mother-in-law reach out to touch my afro. And the notion that a government official could make a drug from a flower and circulate it to the “predatory” classes was not lost on my ultra-conspiratorial Jamaican mind. And heck, I almost cried twice when watching Zootopia,  although I suspect that both racists and non-racists could feel the movie is speaking to them.

    The first time I almost wept copious tears was of a scene uniquely connected to minorities; the other was a scene that a more generalized audience would understand. In the first scene, an incident is recounted of a little boy who was not allowed to belong because he was not the right uh…okay let’s call it ”race.” The second scene harkened to the kind of heartfelt sentimentality that is everywhere during the Christmas Season, Martin Luther King Day, or even the Special Olympics: belief in possibilities, hope in humanity and ourselves, and loving trust in our neighbors. So yes, I liked this movie a lot.

    But yeah, that other thing. The other human element, a subtext which a more homogenous nation might more readily see. Forgetting racial matters, the movie is also an examination of the emotional equivalence of predatoriness and the emotional similitude of being a prey. In Alienated, the viewer is shown two equals involved in a subtle war against each other. Culturally, a marriage is an alliance and a balance of emotional power; there should be neither prey nor predator in the relationship. (Of course predation --or assumptions of predation-- happens a lot in some marriage...and Alienated is an examination of the battle humans engage in when they believe they are being preyed upon.)

    But in the “real” world, there are no fast rules on how to discern predatory humans, preys, or wolves in sheep’s clothing. We humans often take on allies -- in religious systems, in social groups, in social status-- on the assumption that those who are like us are probably not going to destroy us. In addition to that, we learn to discern false flags, to intuit warning signals, to decipher behavioral patterns that hint at whether we are dealing with someone we can harm, someone who can harm us, someone who will defend herself if attacked, someone who will scurry away like a bunny. I remember reading about a psychological study which examined why certain types of people usually end up repeatedly abused. They send out signals that potential attackers hone in on: phermones, if you will. Other folks, with kinder or more enlightened or introspective hearts, might also sniff out the weaknesses of their fellow humans. But these kinder, enlightened, introspective hearts never attack. They are either able to spiritually check themselves, or identify with the possible prey.

    In Zootopia, Judy Hops still has the instinct to fear those who may be destructive to her. From biological instinct and from past experiences, she is predisposed to distrusting Nick who is a fox. Heck, she carries around a spray just in case she meets an unevolved fox. Thus she is aware that she has been prey and might be prey but she is not willing to be ruled by her past experiences. Nick, on the other hand, has experienced being prey. One would not think a fox could be deceived but alas as a child he was. As a lover of the poet William Blake, I will just say that Nick too went from “Songs of Innocence” to “Songs of Experience” And now, he -- like Judy-- are on their way to singing “Songs of Regained Innocence.”  

    In Zootopia, biology is believed to be the marker that signals the possibility of predation. A lion’s biology would make it a predator, a bunny’s or a sheep’s biology would make it a prey. But since the animals of Zootopia have evolved past mere biological urges, all desire for predation has changed. Oh there are still power structures, scheming, underhandedness, etc. But there is no predation. Let’s digress and consider that for a moment. Not from an animal perspective but from humanity’s. Will cruel humans ever evolve out of the need to be cruel to weaker humans?

    There is a scene where Judy chases a criminal through Little Rodentia, a town populated by tiny rodents. Our bunny cop, who has been pretty much among the tiniest beings in Zootopia’s capital city now has power to harm. However, she does not harm. She is quite aware of her power to accidentally step on those who are weaker or smaller than she is. In fact, the viewer also sees that Nick -- a predator-- is also aware of the little folks below him. Later, when we meet a big gangster, Mr Big, we discover that predation has nothing to do with size at all. Small, puny, people can be predatory too.     

    This leads the viewer to begin to understand that preys can go against their biological programming and suddenly behave like predators. (Not gonna get into the whole nurture versus nature debate here.) So, it is no surprise to us when we see that one prey has been put-upon for so long that patience becomes anger, the need to control, and the active desire for vengeance.  I found myself wondering about the human “real world” counterpart of this situation. Do weak, put-upon people suddenly lose it? Why yes, they do!

    Considering how volatile the world has been about racial matters lately, I’m not sure how many reviewers will wish to examine this aspect of the film. After all, racism is of national import right now. Being kinder and gentler to each other is kinda on the back-burner. Besides, reviewers, as a group, tend to be like other humans: there are some who are so emotionally strong -- or who have been biologically, financially, and racially linked to power-- that they may not see this little corner of the box. But, I’m hoping in those reviewers out there who understand what being prey is. They might see this subtext quite easily. And maybe their pens will be their swords and they can root for a film that basically tells us all to be excellent to each other.

    Happy Creativity, all.

    Saturday, February 11, 2017

    2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts -- Documentary

    4.1 Miles
    This joint US-Greece short shows the efforts to save refugees coming in by boat from the Middle East via Turkey. I was on the verge of tears watching this. The film is effective in showing how complex the whole humanitarian crisis is. Weeping children, many of them orphans, caring but wary Greeks who feel their island is being overwhelmed, especially because there is no infrastructure on the island to take care of sick, homeless refugees. A very sad but important watch. I suspect that even people who are hateful toward Moslems would be touched.   
    I think I needed a trigger alert for this documentary. The focus of this story is on people in ICU in Kansas who are not going to recover from their illnesses. These people (if they are able, or if their families are willing) are given the choice of living or dying. Sometimes living implies being in a vegetative state until the body gives out. It's definitely a study about the ethics of medicine. This is a very, very, hard watch.  
    Joe’s Violin

    This is very touching. After a NYC radio station starts a musical donation drive, many people donated their instruments. This story is focused on a holocaust survivor who is giving up his beloved violin. Music meant a lot to him before the war, while he was in the displaced person's camp in Siberia, and after. He donates the violin to a young girl and they become friends. This girl also has endure some suffering of her own.  This is a very inspiring documentary. I was weepy throughout.
    The White Helmets
    Among the bombed-out houses and shelters in Syria are a group of people called the White Helmets who go through the rubble to find survivors and bodies.  It's another hard watch. It's just very difficult seeing all that suffering, but it's inspiring to see how brave these first-responders are. This is yet another film that those who dislike refugees should see.
    Watani: My Homeland
     This depicts the life of a refugee Syrian family as they try start a new life in Germany. It's hopeful but felt slightly like propaganda. Unlike the previous refugee films where we are in the middle of a distressing situation, this film has time for reflection and even a bit of a happy ending. The conversations tend to be the kind of talk one hears when one is aware that others are watching and that one needs to say certain appropriate things. Perhaps because of this and because of the slickness of the finished production, everything recalled in tranquility, the film feels like any old documentary one might find on a news program.

    What Should Win: Joe's Violin or 4.1 Miles.
    In Theaters February 8th and On Demand February 21st
    For a full list of theaters the short films are playing in, visit:
    For information on how to watch On Demand, visit:

    Watch the official trailer:


    2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts -- Animation

    Blind Vaysha
    The plot of this story is simple. A girl, Vaysha, is born with one eye that sees only the past and another eye that sees only the beautiful. Although the village women try to help her, she never sees the present. This modern fairytale from Canada merges the philosophical and the fantastical, which is what the best fairytales always do. Watching the artwork is like watching a living ancient etching. An animated film that will cause much discussion among filmgoers of any age. This should win if the Academy members decide to go for a deep story.
    Borrowed Time

    In this US short, a son recounts the tragic events that led to his father's death. A tragedy which he caused but was not responsible for and which has haunted him since that day. The cinematography  is breath-taking. The script is crisp, powerful, and heart-rending despite the sparse dialog. A lot of emotion and beauty in this 6-minute film.  Definitely not for kids. 
    Pear Cider and Cigarettes
     This joint Canadian and UK noir has spectacular linear art, very reminscent of comic books. The story is excellent, the narration world-weary. The entire thing is stylish. But it bored me. Perhaps I'm burned out on good-for-nothing self-destructive types, but after a while I didn't care enough about the antihero and I kept wondering why such great art was being wasted on such a character. Perhaps it's the literature major in me but I've just seen too many stories about loser/users to care. This story added nothing new to similar stories and the backstory of ant-hero's life didn't give the viewer any reason to care about or understand him. So, while his friend the narrator was well-acted and worn down, the story seemed as inevitable and predictable as the anti-hero's path towards death.   

    This American short about growing up, bonding, and paternal love is very sweet but it says nothing new. In it, a young girl realizes how much her father has influenced her. The color palate of the film is very painterly, giving the viewer a rhapsodic pastel rush of fleeting, nostalgic, images.


     This is a Pixar joint and it is utterly adorable. I had a big grin on my face. It's cute, hopeful, joyful, lovely...and it has a cute little baby bird. Yes, the cuteness factor is off the charts. Academy members who like cuteness should love this.

    What Should Win: Blind Vaysha but I wouldn't mind if Borrowed Time or Piper won.

    Friday, February 10, 2017

    2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts -- Live Action

    Ennemis Intérieurs (Enemies Within)
    Ennemis Interieurs is a story that takes place for the most part in one setting: an official's office. But that particular setting resonates in its universality and specificity. Most people, in most places have been in this type of setting. Who has not had to meet a bureaucrat at some government office? But the setting is also specific and immigrants, religious and ethnic minorities, will feel the resonance in their own way. 
    The basic plot is this: An immigrant who has lived in France most of his life has decided to become a citizen. He is interviewed by an official who seems at first to be more a gatekeeper or police agent than a welcoming immigration office. 
    This is one of the most harrowing short-shorts I've seen in a while. Even more harrowing than the many horror shorts I've seen. And the reason it's such a hard watch and such a painful slow burn is not because of the inherent creepiness that occurs when one sees someone being interrogated in a tiny room by a cold meticulous official bent on tripping one up. It's because one finds one's self getting angrier and angrier as the cruelty becomes more pointed and the trap becomes more inescapable.  It's been ages since a film villain has made me so angry. Most villains in movies are cool and we filmgoers generally admire their sang-froid and cold-heartedness. But the citizenship inspector is so reminiscent of that powerful real-world prejudiced villainous official who is hell-bent on destruction.  In this character, we see how pernicious, subtle, and vicious the prejudices of the powerful are. Highly recommended.   
    La Femme et le TGV (The Woman and the TGV)

    A woman whose life is passing her by is holding on to the past --its elegance, its proprieties, its routine. Part of her daily routine is waving out the window at a passing train -- the TGV. She has not greeted the new things of life -- things such as the internet, or people like the playful young guy who dared to park her car in front of her bakery. But then, one day, a letter arrives and it is from someone on the train. He has seen her waving everyday and he writes to thank her that he values that very human action. She answers that it is a habit she formed with her son in the old days. However, this new interaction with this unseen letter-writer becomes the catalyst which causes her to grow out of her old ways. 

    I liked this film a lot. I can't say it is anything super-special, so I'm somewhat surprised that it is nominated as a short. After all, there are countless movies and shorts about people encountering something, event, or action that causes some life-changing momentum to be set in place. Perhaps I'm missing something about the film that makes me unable to see it's greatness. Perhaps it has national or cultural echoes --the death of small-town France, for instance. But I won't hold its simplicity against it. It is a sweet little short with a solid story and good cinematography.
    Silent Nights

    Every once in a while one comes upon a movie where one has a disconnect with the filmmakers. For me, this was such a movie. The story is about a young woman in Denmark who is working in a homeless shelter for poor legal and undocumented immigrants. She encounters a homeless man from Ghana and falls in love with him.  Because of this encounter, the man leaves Denmark with lots of money and the woman is left alone happily fulfilled with his child. Perhaps the blurb is to blame, which reads as: "The couple builds a life together, but a devastating secret from Kwame's past may undermine their happiness." SPOILER (which is not really a spoiler): The Ghanaian man is married with children.

    There are countless reasons why this movie annoyed me. The primary one, however, is that the music cues us to like the Ghanaian. Musical cues rarely work when a story is so facile. The writer in me wants sentiment --especially the sentiment of pity-- to be earned. In the end, the story comes off as a tale about a naïve loveless White girl who is taken advantage of by a Black man. Which is fine. But this is not what the filmmakers intended. The depiction of the immigrant is patronizing, his adultery is glossed over and repaid by monetary gains. The girl comes off as a dupe, and the film as self-congratulatory and simplistic. For me the story should have been more subtle and more morally complicated. For instance, is it possible for a poor man to love a woman who is giving him financial help and who ends up providing him with sex and a place to stay? A story like this --told in times like this-- should leave the viewer feeling troubled and perhaps confused.  
    Sing (Mindenki)

    This Hungarian short is utterly a-political, yet profoundly political. Unlike the failure Silent Nights and the pointed and devastating Enemies Within, Sing shows in a small setting -- a primary school-- that the political is often quite personal and that communal power (however small) can overcome evil....if only on a small scale. The story concerns a school choir, the choir mistress, and an upcoming contest which the choir mistress desperately wishes to win.  The choir mistress is not below using cruelty to get her way. What I loved primarily about this film was its kindness, its unobtrusive but powerful subtext, and its efficient storytelling. It may not be as devastatingly powerful as Enemies Within but it says a lot about how power could be challenged. I highly recommend this little short.

    This short from Spain manages to be primarily about dance. I wouldn't necessarily call it a dance film, however. The dancing is interwoven like beads on a very thin plot string. But it works so well. The main characters are two guards who never speak to each other -- at least their communication is not verbal. They pass each other like ships in the night; dancing ships. The only verbal communication between them are the camera timecodes they exchange, timecodes which give each other clues to when and where their dance communication takes place. A good short, and like any good dance flick, the culmination of the story and the dance work perfectly together.

    Thursday, February 09, 2017

    review: The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan

    The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ
    by Andrew Klavan
    • Hardcover: 304 pages
    • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (September 20, 2016)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 071801734X
    • ISBN-13: 978-0718017347
    I really like this book. Usually I fear reading conversion stories that are published by large Christian companies. Often, they are ghost-written by a Christian ghost-writer and feels very cookie-cutter by-the-book. Often those conversion stories don't feel quite literary. And no, I'm not into literary memoirs, but there is something to be said for actually seeing the personality of the writer and knowing one is reading words that are chosen by the book's subject instead of words chosen or written by a ghostwriter. But hey, that's just me. The writer in me can spot sameness in any book and apparently, there's a Christian style of non-fiction/memoir writing.

    Anyway, moving on.

    Another thing that's good about this book is that feels as if it was written by an excellent writer. There is a self-searching and an honesty that is apparent in this spiritual memoir. The book is ruminative and revelatory and much care is taken to show the inner workings of the memoirist. He talks about having to push past his knowledge that his background might have set him up to reject his faith in order to fit into White Christian Culture. Because the writer of this book loves books, the memoir has many literary references as well as many dissections of emotional, psychological, and spiritual challenges on the way to his conversion.  And he's very honest about his challenges, giving -- so to speak-- "a knife to any reader who might wish to stab him with" some supposed 'reason' for his conversion.  Most Christian non-fiction --in my experience-- just isn't that honest. And that's what I liked about this memoir.

    One of the challenges he mentions was when he had that moment, the false epiphany of "No God." It reminded of what happened to William James, Henry James' Brother. If I recall, James had been walking through life when suddenly it occurred to him that God did not exist. It was such a sudden realization that it freed him, supposedly. Except that Klavan couldn't rest in that sudden (false) realization that God didn't exist. He pushed past it.

    The book is very readable, insightful, and a great read. Highly recommended. I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.


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