Monday, November 22, 2010


I was thrilled to accept an invitation to a sneak preview of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (scheduled for release 12/10/10). It turned out to be a day and time that did not work well for a lot of people, but I was able to get there an hour and a half early! I was 10th in line. The folks behind me were church planters of Presbyterian and Baptist origin, and I enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversation for a while, when I wasn't busy watching the small child in front of me who was using his dad as his personal jungle gym. The church planters were not current Redeemerites, but were certainly familiar with the church.

Picking up the tickets went smoothly, and I was able to give my guest ticket to a friend who ended up sprinting across town, racing the clock to get to the movie before the lock-down.*

To my surprise and delight, Kathy Keller introduced the movie. She said that as a child, she'd had the impression that C.S. Lewis was her great discovery, and she'd written letters to C.S. Lewis in hopes of encouraging him as a writer. (This was apparently toward the end of his life, when he and his works had been well-known for decades; they just were not known to her to be well-known.) She speculated that she'd been invited to introduce this screening of Voyage of the Dawn Treader because she had similarly pestered the movie-makers (albeit with a different motive - to help them get the important details right in translating the book into cinematic form).

The movie was a delight from the very opening credits. It starts with an idyllic animated scene which gradually becomes real-life action.

What was right with this film? Where to start? The characters were immensely appealing. I think I liked Lucy better in this film than in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Also liked Reepicheep better than in Prince Caspian (or indeed, in the original books - I'd always found him shrill and annoying, even in print); I think they took care to humanize the rat in significant ways in this film.

And Eustace was absolutely perfect. From the very beginning, he is an unbearable snot; creepy, selfish and vicious. This inner nature is soon revealed externally as well, as he is transformed into a dragon. Over the course of the movie, he is un-dragoned and is eventually revealed as a warm and genuine human being. The actor (and heck, probably the director and screenwriters, credit all round!) did an amazing job at communicating this change in a deeply convincing way.

In the book, Eustace is un-dragoned by Aslan. There is no other way. He tries to peel off the dragon skin himself, and is encouraged by the ease with which he can do it... only to realize in dismay that there are more dragon layers underneath each time. Aslan's claws are needed to perform the necessary surgery -- painful, but thorough -- to strip away the dragon skin. In the movie, Eustace is still un-dragoned by Aslan, in a brief and gorgeous CGI scene, but it does not carry the same focus and emotional resonance. (I have a feeling that we may owe Kathy Keller a debt of gratitude for making sure that Eustace at least explains what happened afterward.) In fact, the movie seems to show two, possibly as many as three, potential causes for the un-dragoning of Eustace. One, the proximate cause, is Aslan's removal of the dragon skin. However a second, and almost equally significant cause, is the courageous and generous friendship of Reepicheep. It is clear in the film that Reepicheep loves and seeks after Aslan; and surely such persons can do Aslan's work in loving and encouraging those whose true Narnian nature is hidden under hideous dragon skin.

Some Christians - perhaps especially Catholics? - might see a third possible "cause" for the un-dragoning, based on the good works that Eustace does as a dragon. This too is a deviation from the book. Eustace spends a lot of time in the movie as a dragon, cajoled on to acts of heroism by Reepicheep. He saves everyone from destruction several times using his dragon powers (he lights a fire on the beach so they don't freeze to death; he pulls the ship when they're stuck; he knocks out a sea monster temporarily with a fire-blast to the face; and he is the one to break the spell on Ramandu's Island). So he has seemingly redeemed himself, in some sense, by saving everyone. There are some advantages and disadvantages of this choice; certainly it makes more for more cinematic excitement to have Eustace banging around as a dragon for an extended period. And there's a great scene where he grabs Edmund and swoops with him over the island so he can see the words "I AM EUSTACE" written in flames on the barren land.

There's more to say on this, maybe after December 10. Some more initial thoughts and impressions, to be fleshed out later:
  • I wasn't entirely convinced that Edmund's temptation would still take the form of the White Witch. Surely the evil forces could have come up with something better than that?
  • Interesting to replace Lucy's "innocent" magic spell gone wrong (the spell to hear what people "really" think of her, which exposes her to nasty gossip), with a more popular be-yourself message. However, the way the new spell works is very intriguing -- her wish to be as beautiful as her sister results in an alternate reality in which Lucy becomes Susan. I thought this was going in one direction, with the perils of vanity, but we quickly learn that in this alternate reality, Lucy herself does not exist. Her brothers and she are all in America (since she has no sister) and they have never heard of Aslan or Narnia, since it was Lucy who discovered the wardrobe. I'm getting shivers just thinking about it.
  • There are a few sops to feminism or modernity (I think) which seemed a little unnecessary. For example, a little girl who has no real reason to be on the boat other than the fact that she is female. And a comment by Caspian to Lucy about how grown up she is, which seemed designed to fend off a rather idiotic but oft-stated theory about why Lucy gets to go to Aslan's world while Susan doesn't.
  • The entire dufflepuds scenario was beautifully realized. I love the big reveal when they are finally made visible - some cute and clever choices, visually, that C.S. Lewis probably never dreamed of.
Oh, there's more. This was a good movie, and a lot of fun. Looking forward to watching it again.

FN* And indeed, there was a bit of a lock-down. Even though the preview audience was composed primarily of church groups, they were not taking any chances. Our instructions said not to bring any recording devices, including camera phones. Really? Who can spend a day without their mobile phone? And who can even find a camera-free mobile phone these days? Even the free phones that you get for signing a 2-year contract have cameras in them. So the bottom line is, they confiscated everyone's phones at the entrance to the movie theatre. (If you paused to think about whether you had a mobile device with you, as I did, they went ahead and waved a wand at you and detected that there was such a device in your purse.)

Luckily, they'd thought through the logistics and had a check tag for each person to take, and each phone was wrapped in the matching receipt, secured by a rubber band. They also had ziplock bags -- just in case someone had a multi-part recording device of some kind, I imagine. I didn't see any cameras on the table, just phones. So that speaks well of our collective law-abiding intent. Or at least I know that my phone is incapable of taking a device that could in any way undercut the demand for any movie. Even in good light and focused on nearby unmoving objects, the resulting low-resolution, blurry images could be pretty much anything.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Be Thankful, Or Else.

In my life, there can be long stretches without any particularly big Social Occasion. I'll always find something to do, of course, but it's nice to have something Really Official now and then.

So I was happy when one of the co-leaders of my home fellowship group offered to host a Thanksgiving Luncheon at my home on November 20th. (This is more generous than it sounds, because he is living there at the moment, and therefore has full right, title and possession of all cleanup duties.)

Then, a week or two later, I was invited to another early Thanksgiving Feast! This through my church. How exciting! Except... how strange. Also on November 20th. Well, at least this would be a Thanksgiving Dinner. With a full seven (7) hours between the start of the Thanksgiving Lunch and the Thanksgiving Dinner, I was optimistic that I could enjoy both.

Then, about 10 days before the the Great Events, I was invited to a friend's birthday dinner, with karaoke to follow. Isn't that nice? But - oh, horror! - also on November 20th. In the evening. At the same time as the Thanksgiving Dinner. I had one hope - the guest of honor was already planning to attend the Thanksgiving Lunch. Surely the birthday hosts did not wish to overwhelm her by non-stop festivities throughout the day? Alas, they did wish to overwhelm her. The birthday girl was totally on board with the plan. And so was the host of the Thanksgiving Lunch (who was also invited to both events). I did my best to salvage the evening - I would at least attend the Birthday Karaoke after the Thanksgiving Dinner, energy permitting.

As the Magnificent Events loomed ever larger in view, one more email crossed my inbox. Aaack! No! It can't be! But alas, yes, as fate would have it. One of the Thanksgiving Dinner attendees was also born on November 20th! So she wanted everyone to stick around for Birthday Dancing after the Thanksgiving Dinner.

But seriously, it was a lovely day. I had time in the morning for a few errands. The Thanksgiving Lunch was a dream of elegance and delight. Amazing to see my old place with a banquet table covered in fabric. The food was delicious, the company delightful. I especially liked the carrot soufflé (it wasn't really a soufflé from a technical perspective, almost more of a pudding, but really, really good). I ate a little of many things, but more than I'd planned. We played movie charades afterward, with some gender-bending highlights. Jenn got us to guess the first syllable of "Pee-Wee Herman's Big Adventure" by miming the use of an appendage that she does not have. Ryan got his team to guess the last word of "There's Something About Mary" by miming the Passion, and then miming childbirth. We could not stop laughing about that - there were surely easier and less graphic ways to get across the concept of motherhood, but there are probably not funnier ways to do it. That was a classic.

My main contribution was putting the first word Throw and last word Train together to guess (correctly) Throw Momma From the Train. My teammates seemed astonished by this act of mindreading, but it seemed pretty straightforward to me at the time.

I ended up acting out my film title by simply looking sad and encouraging my team to come up with synonyms (crying! melancholy! depression!) until someone stumbled on the blues - I gave this a big thumbs-up, and Jenn immediately made the mental leap to The Blues Brothers.

After this, I went home and took a nap, but I was still too full for dinner when I finally got to the Thanksgiving Dinner. I didn't need to worry about duplication; the event was very different in venue, form, and feeling from the Thanksgiving Lunch. It had more of the feeling of a cocktail party and buffet, assisted by a very cool cocktail lounge area under the front lobby of Matt's building. The lounge opens to the lobby for a very spacious feeling - but it also meant that the moment I entered the building I knew where the gang was, as I heard familiar, well-carrying voices wafting up from the common room. That was a fun time, and the Birthday Dance celebrant pretty much convinced me to abandon the rival Birthday Karaoke event by the simple expedient of announcing that the dance party would continue at Matt's place rather than a club. Wow! A brilliant coup. The scheme would have worked ... I was going to stay and dance and then see if I still felt like going to karaoke ... except that Ryan called to see if I was still coming to the Birthday Karaoke and to tell me they only had the room for 2 hours. Rats. He called my bluff.

So I didn't end up dancing at all, but instead went off to karaoke in K-town. A strange but wonderful day.

I was so tired Sunday, which was also a full day. On duty at church, a weird tell-two-strangers-about-your-biggest-faith-struggles conversation, watched Fair Game, and then enjoyed pizza and conversation with friends in Brooklyn Heights.

A lot to be thankful for. But I just realized this turned into kind of a Brooklyn weekend as well. There's really no escape, is there?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Writers Mtg I

fluorescent glare
chocolate headache
a long string of tables
skittering of keyboards
among the sighing of paper
heads bowed
in reverence to the written word
the word being written
our words, or thine

Veterans Day at the Chocolate Show

I'd never been to the NYC Chocolate Show before -- the few times I'd stumbled across it or thought of attending, the lines were rather daunting. But at 4:30 pm on Veterans Day, there was no line to get in, and the booths were not excessively crowded.

The William Dean chocolates were pretty.

Some of their chocolates were actually airbrushed (I'll upload that picture later).

My favorite sample was actually a plain chocolate truffle from Fifth Avenue Chocolatiere, made with creme fraiche and served slightly cool. Absolutely delicious.

The price is a bit steep (I don't think I sampled anywhere near $30 worth of chocolate), but I did enjoy the samples and some demonstrations.

I left in time for a writers group meeting, which was focused on the concept of "holy ground" and the nature of a calling -- the discussion was organized around the story of Moses and the burning bush. (More on this later.)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

JP Morgan Museum & Libraries

For the afternoon, we went to the Pierpont Morgan Museum and Library. None of us had been there before. We liked the permanent collection best.

The library was pretty cool, especially with the free audio guide to explain some of the more subtle features and history. I just wish they had opened the bookcases so we could actually see the hidden spiral staircases!

In the study, they had some delicately carved cylinder seals and other ancient collectable items.

The cranes on these cups were really cool, very naturalistic. On the lower cup, one crane appears to be eating a plant (maybe a cattail?) while the other seems to be interested in a snake:

We enjoyed a light lunch and vintage cocktails (a Rob Roy and a Grapefruit Gimlet), then tackled the special exhibits. We got through those fairly quickly, then wandered around outside the building.

There were some big cats behind the fence, which is appropriate for a library in New York:

But these were not lions like the NYPL:

I think they might be lionesses - unless someone can identify the cat?

We really liked the ironwork:

We had a bit of extra time to fill on our way to the restaurant (appropriately enough, Il Gattopardo - The Leopard), so we stopped into the NYPL to see the photography exhibit on the 3rd floor. It filled our purposes very well, and for exactly the right price! Some of the photographs were pretty interesting, and there were some nice groupings (e.g., people caught in mid-air; people raising their hands; dog pictures).

We also saw this statue of a girl crossing a log:

Dinner was nice and unrushed until we realized two hours had rolled by and we needed to make our way to Studio 54 for a revival of Brief Encounter. En route, we saw fireworks!