Friday, December 30, 2011

300 Words On Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

A perfectly struck golf shot is a wonderful thing.  It's an intricately balanced combination of force, relaxation and commitment.  If one pushes too hard on any one part, the result is, well, not good.  But if you bring them all together, the ball goes.

The first Sherlock Holmes film, starring Robert Downey, Jr and directed by Guy Ritchie, hit it right off the screws, as golfers say.  It was fast paced, smart, funny, and surprising in a way that was totally fair to the audience, holding all of those elements in an almost elegant balance.  But it appears, at least for Ritchie, following up a good movie is as hard to repeat a good golf shot.

This sequel swings much too hard.  The fast pace of the first film becomes frenetic here.  Downey's eccentric and driven Holmes becomes manic.  Sometimes more is better, but this time, when Ritchie "turns it up to eleven" it indeed gives the film what Spinal Taps's David St. Hubbens called "that little extra to push you over the precipice."

Positively, Downey and co-star Jude Law still have a nice chemistry, and Stephen Fry is a fun addition as Holmes' brother Mycroft.  The plot is simpler than the first film, with the mystery much more in service of the action.  But what lingers for me is the portrayal of Holmes' nemesis.  Moriarty is played with a "real" malevolence that throws this popcorn film out of balance.  And it leads me to wonder about the "value" of this sort of film.  If I'm troubled by Moriarty's character in this film, why was I not bothered by the cartoonish violence and bad guys of the first film?  That's a conundrum, as they say, and maybe Downey and Ritchie will help me figure it out in the next sequel.

Monday, August 29, 2011

300 Words on... The Help

The Help is this summer's "feel good" movie.  It's the story of Skeeter Phelan, who managed to graduate from Old Miss in the early 60's with passion for writing but without a husband. Landing a job writing a domestic advice column for the local paper, she asks help from "the help", the African-American maids who handle domestic work for upper class Jackson families.

As she talks with the maids of her friends, who have already married and had kids, and prodded by the unexplained departure of the maid who had raised her, Skeeter decides to tell these women's stories in a book she calls, "The Help".  At first, only two women take up Skeeter's offer - publishing the stories of black women was not only dangerous but actually illegal at the time - but as they push on others come forward and the book is triumphantly published.

The plot never goes anywhere unexpected, and as with most ensemble films, the characters come close to being flat stereotypes.  Skeeter is a standard "plucky" girl, while the the two lead maids, Aibeleen and Minnie, are more rounded and nuanced.

I was left wondering, however, who this film was supposed to make "feel good".  The happy ending is sadly unrealistic - in the real Jackson, the black church would have been firebombed, the maids beaten or killed, and Skeeter's family ruined.  Moreover, as this perceptive essay points out, Skeeter's friends weren't only racist, they were bad, twisted people.  By ignoring the fact that Jim Crow was carried out mostly by "nice" people, the film allows white people like me to believe that since we're good parents, don't shun people, don't demand separate bathrooms, we would have done better.  Or at least have done what Skeeter did. 

I'm not so sure about that.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Something I Thought of in Church Today: Grace and Compassion

My church has a tradition of leaving part of the worship "open" or "unprogrammed" in the group's jargon, meaning that it starts out as a time of silence and then if anyone feels prompted by God's Spirit to say something, she (or he) is supposed to stand and, um, say it.

Today, that happened to me, or at least I think so.  I mean, I definitely talked, and I think it was with God's leading.  I was prompted by feeling rather discouraged over how things have been going (as in badly) for almost everyone I'm close to.  The Lord used that discouragement (I think) to remind me of an amazing sentence from the book of Isaiah.  Anyway, this is what I said (modified slightly for this format):

There was a point in my life where I had trouble appreciating God's grace and mercy.  I mean, I understood, intellectually, how they were important, and how they fit in the Gospel.  But I didn't really "get" it.  Now I've reached the point where I don't have any trouble understanding emotionally, experientially, how important grace and compassion are.

Right now, almost everyone who is really important to me is in a tough phase, or worse, is in a permenant trajectory that is, well, not good.  This weekend, I had the darkly comedic experience of actually being glad for a bad thing because it wasn't a worse thing.

But that's not my point in speaking.

My point is to share with you something that is true.  In Isaiah 30:18 we're told: "The Lord longs to be gracious to you.  He rises to show you compassion".

For a long time, I thought that the Lord's grace and compassion were essentially reactive, or compensatory - that our lameness forces him to react with grace and compassion.  What I've come to realize instead is that God's grace and mercy are in fact, as the verse says, his first choice.  When we, when I arrive at the point where we must rely on his mercy and compassion it's a good thing, it's not a problem.  Rather, needing to rely on God's grace and compassion have been his plan, his purpose for me, for us, from the beginning.

So Friends, please remember that this is true: "The Lord longs to be gracious to you.  He rises to show you compassion".
I don't know if I'm going to return to blogging - so my three remaining blog fans should temper their expectations