Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Pagan Christ by Tom Harpur

Just in the process of reading it.

The basic argument:Christianity as we know it was shaped ~3rd century C.E. and at that time it was decided that certain common myths and archetypal elements of the hero's journey be personalised and embodied in the life of Jesus. So, elements including divine ancestry, a virgin birth, a guiding star as well as the sermon on the mount, the torture and crucifixion were taken out of the general mythical context and applied to the life of Jesus. According to Harpur, we actually have very little evidence regarding what Jesus's life might actually have been, but it seems likely it has little to do with the story that has been passed down, because all of the above elements (and more) pre-existed the Christian story and can be found, for instance, in Egyptian mythology.

From my understanding, Harpur feels that when these elements exist in a common "mythosphere" [my coinage], we can apply them to ourselves and derive power from them. By literalizing them and embodying them in an individual's life, early Christianity created a paradigm against which everyone would fall short--and robbed the myth of its metaphorical power and resonance.

My concern with the book: Harpur does state at the outset that this is meant to be a widely accessible work rather than a scholarly piece of writing. Still, given what little I do know about the early texts, a lot of the information that is derived from them seems sketchy and open to a wide margin of interpretation. Some of his neat little etymological progressions [Osiris=el Asar (Hebraic version)=El Asar-us (Latin suffix)=Lazarus] seem a little suspicious and overly convenient. I cannot help but wonder whether some of his other connections are also that way. Also, his version of the Horus myth is very different from the one I'm familiar with. There are often different version of myths out there, but still, it makes me wonder how much it has been tweaked to fit in with certain arguments.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine in Kinky Boots

Recently viewed:

Shaun of the Dead: Cute, quirky. A little bit of a long lead in, but ultimately fun. (spoiler warning) Finally, a zombie movie that presents a resolution and some measure of a return to ordinary life, after the zombies show up.

Little Miss Sunshine: Cute, quirky and Abigail Breslin really is charming. Nothing groundbreaking, but fun to watch. A review I read identified it as "a mainstream movie masquerading as an indie" which I think is fair. It's funny to realise that stuff like gayness and drag are just about normal at this point, which leads us to...

Kinky Boots: Cute, quirky. Fully Monty but with drag queens instead of strippers.

Connie and Carla: Cute, quirky. Some Like It Hot, but with women who pretend to be men who are spectacularly convincing drag queens (you'd think I was on a drag jag, except that I didn't realise that drag was part of the premise when I signed it out, as the cover copy is rather coy about the whole issue). Charming, if you like show tunes and cheesiness (I do). I had very low expectations, and so I was pleasantly surprised and actually enjoyed it, as I might not have done were my expectations higher. Precisely the kind of thing I would imagine that Nia Vardalos and Toni Collette would do as a team. No doubt far edgier when Julie Andrews did it in Victor/Victoria, but with fewer warm fuzzies...?

Delirious: Rarely cute or quirky. I can see that it might have been groundbreaking at the time, and certainly see how people like Dave Chapelle have been informed by it. Sometimes funny, though the homophobic opening was offputting (and there were other facets as well that didn't age gracefully). On the other hand, perhaps with standup, it's more admirable to note that there were actually some parts that I still found funny so many years after it was done...?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Films of Interest

The Queen
Little Miss Sunshine

Unleashed (with Jet Li)

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Pan's Labyrinth
For your Consideration
[maybe] Stranger than Fiction


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Raising Helen and UltraViolet

Well, we didn't get to the more substantial picks--Hotel Rwanda and (so I understand?!) The Green Mile. Maybe next time 'round, as I feel I'm ready to see them both. But Tom also wants to see 'em and he's been too busy this week.

So instead, I rented a number of forgettables (sorry to say that about anyone's films, but I really don't believe that I'll remember these very well in the years to come without the aid of these notes).

Raising Helen--Romantic comedy starring Kate Hudson (I'm still not sure whether I like her or find her annoying, though she's likeable enough, I suppose) and the DJ guy from Northern Exposure whose name eludes me at the moment (he was also in My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Chris something--Corbett, perhaps. It was pleasant enough. It followed a fairly standard story arc, though I thought it took too long getting started/establishing her life before the catalyst/inciting incident. I can't say the idea of dating a Lutheran pastor holds great appeal to me, regardless of how trendy he is, but I guess it's a notion that has some appeal within the culture as it's evolving right now. And of course, it was pleasant and innocuous enough.

UltraViolet--neat visual effects; they've done it up so that it has a video-game, vector-based feel to it that's kind of cool, though ironic, in that game designers work so hard in video games to make them seem real, and here's a live-action flick that's voluntarily taking on that vector-y look. Neat premise of vampirism as a disease (originally created for a form of biological warfare gone awry).

It seems, though, as if Milla Jovovich is really getting typecast as post-apocalyptic tough chick in action flick type roles (the two Resident Evil films come to mind. I know there was some kind of epidemic involved there as well, though my memories of it are vague. Was that a Zombie-making one?). She works well in such roles because her features seem chiselled and honed, but she has this funny, slightly twitchy way of holding her mouth that makes her seem vulnerable despite the tough veneer. It works, IMO.

But, the real reason I like her as a screen presence, I think, is because of her role in the film Dummy in which Adrien Brody plays a wannabe ventriloquist. MJ plays Fangora--Fanny for short--this gangly, wacky and socially inept friend of his. She gives him all sorts of advice in order to forward his love life and--unfortunately for him, he follows it, with disastrous consequences. And yet the character of Fanny is so goofy and well-meaning that the viewer forgives her. That was also the first movie in which I really noticed how much work she's done with her accent. It's impressive.

At any rate, having seen her in that, pulling off humour so well (which I really do believe is one of the more difficult modes to do successfully--particularly when the character is deadpan and unaware of how funny she is), it does seem to me that she's somewhat wasted in these kickass chick flicks with the bared abdomen and the kaRAte-chop moves.

But perhaps she divides her time between those and indies like Dummy. One can only hope so.

Save the Cat

An intriguing-sounding book on screenwriting to check out at some point: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

Also, the book on music basics Tom was talking about. :-)

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Lost Generation

I've been reading a little about them recently (and of course, the many lost generations, in 1491, which so far impresses me).

At any rate, I'm curious to see the film Last Call (about F. Scott Fitzgerald, starring Jeremy Irons and Neve Campbell), so I thought I'd best add it to the list before it falls out of my line of sight, to be forgotten evermore. Zelda Fitzgerald seems an interesting figure.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Catching Life by the Throat in 1491

Two new books from the library (my ambition knows no bounds):

Catching Life by the Throat: How to read poetry and why by Josephine Hart (this sounds great, and includes a cd of a live reading at the British Library by people like Ralph Fiennes, Harold Pinter and Juliet Stevenson). We've only heard one poem so far and the recording quality is terrible, but it's really neat all the same. More later, when I've had more of a chance to read it.

1491 Which hopefully has more legitimacy (I've read that it does--it's actually reasonably well-regarded) than 1421.

Films rented for the week:

Hotel Rwanda
The Green Mile
The latest Harry Potter (lost track of which one it is)

We haven't seen any of them yet.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Diary of a Bachelorette

Or something like that. A friend of ours taped it because it turns out that a mutual acquaintance was featured in this particular episode.

The show is about a bunch of attractive single women in search of "Mr. Right." They had women of different ethnicities and also of different sizes, which was refreshing to see. They were certainly likeable and appealing figures as presented in the show.

At any rate, it was a strange sensation, watching this episode, because the acquaintance was the "disaster" figure of the show. He was basically shown to be mister incredibly and horribly wrong--and though he has a reputation among those who know him that one might say is somewhat in line with this, I wonder to what extent the interviews, comments and clips were cut to make him look even worse.

So it was really kind of uncomfortable watching the show because on the one hand, it was funny--and if I didn't know this person, I'd probably be chuckling away--but on the other, I felt bad and wondered how he would feel about being portrayed in this way. Or rather--I don't know him at all, so I couldn't really wonder or presume to imagine how he would feel. But because I've met him and heard about him and so on, let's say he was closer to home, and so it made me think about how I would feel under those circumstances, if I were to turn on some show for which I had signed a release form and so on, and found myself portrayed in such a manner.

I guess the moral of the story is, don't sign that release form... :-)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Little Snowy Mosque...

We watched the much-talked about Little Mosque on the Prairie last week, amid much television snow, since we no longer have cable and CBC doesn't come in very well. We both felt Little Mosque was a bit cheesy and the acting wasn't very good. We're hoping it will improve on the latter score at least, as the actors develop a stronger sense of their characters and the story arcs.

I guess it's kind of cute, but I'm not blown away.

I also watched a rather snowy episode of Dr. Who (the second of a two-parter). Again, not much to say.

I haven't been reading or watching much because (drum roll), I've been working on my book! Yippee! I actually managed to get a couple of scene written (they'll need tightening, but it's something at least). I hope to get much more written on it tomorrow and do cleanups on still more scenes that don't require heavy revisions. This is happy news indeed...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Brideshead Revisited

Watched a couple episodes of Brideshead Revisited again (love it!)--inspired by friends Ian and Denise who watched and loved Best of Youth on our recommendation and wanted other suggestions. BR was near the top of my list. It's darker, but covers a long sweep of years as well and is so much about character and a portrayal of particular times and places in Ryder's life. And of course I chortled like mad over John Gielgud's scenes. Those were hilarious.


Humanity: A History

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (just looked this one over quickly at the library). It's not about the signified (i.e. humanity), but rather a history of the word "humanity" and how we have defined it in different times. He talks about our connection to different animals via legend, anthropomorphization and shamanic beliefs. Also, about how Lucy and that other chimpanzee learned sign language (though I believe that has, in some way been debunked--I remember looking into it when I was reading Dragons of Eden because Sagan also mentions those two examples) and so on. Because I recalled that it had been debunked, that did undermine his credibility about such things.

One of the notions that I did find interesting was that he pointed out that our inclusive and egalitarian view of humanity is a relatively recent conceit. Prior to that, there were hierarchies within the classification, drawn along racial (or, to be even more precise, racist) lines. As Djikstra also mentioned in Evil Sisters, in the early days, Darwinism was used to reinforce these prejudices and notions of racial superiority.

At any rate, it was more an extended contemplation of this idea than anything deeply informative, IMO (as Fernandez-Armesto calls it, an extended essay). I didn't love it.



About "thin slicing", the idea that we make a lot of valid snap judgements that serve us well in everyday life but which we cannot explain or verbalize. I.e. the power of the "gut feeling," based on the internalization of numerous, often small but cumulative experiences. He also talks about those biases which lead us astray without our realizing it and that we should be trying to resist. The other big concept introduced is priming--namely, we can unknowingly be primed towards thinking a certain way by seeing a profusion of words or images (e.g. if we are asked to make grammatical sentences from a number of assembled words, we might not notice, scattered within them, words about, say, politeness, because we see them used in a different context. But, the unconscious, "thin slicing" part of our brain does associate them and our behaviour changes accordingly, in subtle ways). It's actually quite a lot about things that Ian covered in his "Faith and Politics" class at UU--really neat stuff.

This book, The Tipping Point and Freakonomics were three books discussed together at Denise's baby shower (which Denise wasn't able to attend because she was in labour!!)--most of the people there had Psych backgrounds and so they were talking about how TTP and Blink were both about fairly basic concepts within Psych circles, but which might have been new to laypersons (true)--and how according to someone's Economist friend, Freakonomics was similar in the latter area--trendily repackaged for popular consumption, but generally fairly basic ideas.

Funny thing (also pointed out by one of the women there): TTP and Freakonomics both talk about the same phenomenon of dropping crime rates in NYC, but cite completely different root causes.

The Tipping Point

Just a few pages in, but the Tipping Point seems to be a trendy, catchy repackaging of the notion of memes--ideas as forms of virus or bacteria that can spread. More viable ones propagate and grow and reach a point of widespread saturation after a while.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

January 4-6

Reading: Inevitable Illusions by Massimo Piattelli-Palimari

--Like optical illusions, which (simplified) involve shortcuts taken by our optical apparatus, there are a number of mental shortcuts we tend to take when making choices and reasoning things out--estimates that lead to faulty reasoning and decision-making. This is known as "mental economy" though the author unmasks this as "mental sloth" that can lead to potentially problematic choices or decisions made.

Much of the book is examples of different varieties of this in the form of puzzler type questions, categorized by type. It's interesting in grand strokes, but I found the diction and syntax of the author to have that particular quality of formality/awkwardness/oddly-fitting idiom that is often an indication of a translation or native speaker of the Romance languages (esp. Spanish and Italian--reminiscent of many of the translations I've read of Latin-American fiction, for instance). I find that peculiarity of idiom enticing in fiction, leading to unexpected descriptive phrases and evocations. It didn't work as well for me in non-fiction. The "voice" felt heavy, long-winded and not very readable, despite a friendly and accessible tone (make no mistake: there weren't issues with grammar that I noticed... it was more subtle than that).

Viewing: Silent Hill

Felt like a video game. Made little sense as a film and slightly more sense as a video game--but there were still large gaps in logic, motivation, etc.


Kind of neat; kind of confusing. It wasn't a big revelation to me and I thought it could have been more clearly and suspensefully done. Ultimately I liked it, but didn't love it. It's not like unmasking the corrupting was some deep insight, but I did like that there was no one specific villian of the piece, and most people were shown to be acting in what they felt was a reasonable way, in the context if his situation. It wasn't one of those "heh heh heh, what evil can I wreak today? I know! I'll scapegoat some lackey as a sleight of hand gesture in order to consolidate my big business and lotsa money position--and just cause it's a rotten thing to do." Each of the characters really did feel he was the hero of his own story and we saw them walk that tightrope of moral compromise (or even fall off) all the while believe that he did so for a bigger, better cause (family, country etc.). Nice to see that balance without any kind of attendant glorification.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Prison Break (season one completed)



To look into:

When We Were Orphans (Kazuo Ishiguro)
Truman Capote (In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffany's and a biography about the man)