Tuesday, December 22

Star Wars, Episode [IV/VII]: [A New Hope/The Force Awakens] ([1977/2015])

Directed by [George Lucas/J. J. Abrams]

Perhaps Episode VII should have been named The Same Old Hope…. While there are admittedly a couple of stretches in the parallel, by and large this adaptation from Ross Douthat’s piece in the New York Times online [LINK] is dead on:

You’ve got an orphaned Force adept unaware of [his/her] powers living on a desert planet near an old man played by a famous British actor who probably holds secrets to [his/her] past; [he/she] then meets up with a droid carrying secret plans that its [Rebel/Resistance] owner hid inside it just before [he/she] was captured and tortured by [the Empire/the First Order]. You’ve got teams of stormtroopers scouring said planet in search of those plans, killing innocents along the way. You’ve got an evil general who wants to rely on a planet-destroying superweapon instead of the Force and who’s in a rivalry with a mysterious cloaked figure for the trust of a strange deformed [Emperor/Supreme Leader]. You’ve got the stop at a cantina-style watering hole filled with smugglers and crooks. You’ve got the destruction of [a] planet(s) crucial to the [Rebel/Resistance] effort midway through the movie, and then you’ve got the threatened destruction of a [Rebel/Resistance] base on a verdant planet by the same superweapon, which can only be averted by an X-Wing attack on a single weak point. You’ve got a confrontation between the cloaked figure (actually, decloaked by this point in the story) and an older, wiser force for good who knew him intimately before he fell, which ends with the older wiser figure being killed while our young hero[ine] looks on in horror. And then you’ve got the X-Wing attack itself, which succeeds in blowing up the entire enemy super-base literally seconds before the superweapon is scheduled to fire on the base where [Princess/General] Leia and a group of [Rebel/Resistance] leaders are watching the attack unfold.

To be fair, I did enjoy it, but there was little new here. Just the original film recycled for a new generation, with some critical elements retooled to the sensibilities of said new generation. Maybe that’s what was needed. Perhaps most importantly, given the misbegotten mess that Lucas himself made of the film franchise, this first post-Lucas offering did look and feel a lot more like “real” Star Wars than the “prequels” that came between. Hopefully with that being accomplished, Episode VII may serve as a springboard for Episodes VIII ff. to actually add something to the mythos.

Cheers, and Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 29

Star Trek Continues (2013 ff.)

Executive Produced by Vic Mignogna

I’ve been on a bit of a Star Trek kick, first inspired by my picking up the excellent Autobiography of James T. Kirk [LINK] but subsequently energized by my chance discovery a couple of weeks ago, of this tour de force.

I knew in kind of a vague way that there were various amateur fan-productions of Star Trek series available on-line. I avoided them. But then, a blog I follow occasionally through Facebook (American Catholic [LINK]) took notice of the latest episode. On a lark, I followed the link and watched the first few minutes of that newest offering – and was blown away! I immediately shared the episode, appending the exuberant comment, “This is GREAT ... Episode 05! ... I think I just found a new way to waste time -- I've not seen 01-04! #BetterthanAbrams.”

Sunday, October 25

The Autobiography of James T. Kirk (2015)

“Edited by” David A. Goodman

I will lead with the most important point: This is indeed the first-person narrative of the life  of the original series James T. Kirk, not the alternate-timeline doppelganger that is featured in the newer movies.

That having been established, this is an enjoyable book. It’s not great, but quite interesting. It’s not really a fleshed-out faux “autobiography.” It might better be termed “memoirs.” It’s constructed as a series of short vignettes, most of them several pages long but organized into about a dozen chapters (unnamed) spanning the 23rd-c. lifetime of James Tiberius Kirk, most famous as the captain of the Starship Enterprise. There is a great deal of overlap with episodes of the original Star Trek television series and the subsequent motion pictures, but a great deal of “new” material on Kirk’s youth and linking the events chronicled in the TV/movie canon. What I found most interesting was the insight that is given into the mind of the heroic captain, who comes off in his own mind as a decidedly unheroic figure, filled with self-doubt and remorse for many of the actions that were celebrated in those stories, many of them necessary in the situations in which he found himself, but which he so often wishes could have been different and recognizes were driven – especially in the later episodes and even afterward – by an incredible hubris that had sometimes devastating effects on those around him. On the other hand, we do get a sense of the sterling character that inspired the great love and loyalty evidenced by his crew and friends. All-in-all, we get a very different view of Kirk that makes him a more realistic character than I think I’ve ever experienced him to be.

Wednesday, October 7

Sunday, 07 October 1571: The Battle of Lepanto

The Battle of Lepanto, ca. 1572
by Paolo Veronese
The battle that stayed the Islamic advance in the Mediterranean toward a direct attack on Rome; The battle that saved Christendom. It is commemorated every year on this day under the title, "Our Lady of the Rosary," because the holy warriors of the fleet commanded by Don John of Austria, and half of Christendom led by Pope St. Pius V in the Vatican, prayed the Holy Rosary for deliverance. A series of miraculous events turned the winds and the tides and granted the Crusaders a crushing victory which the Holy Father witnessed from afar in a vision. St. Pius proclaimed the first Sunday in October to be the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, which was later changed to Our Lady of the Rosary on the calendar date of the battle itself.

340 years later, on 07 October 1911, G. K. Chesterton celebrated the victory by penning this great poem, published later that same week:

Friday, October 2

The Martian (2015)

Directed by Ridley Scott, based on the book by Andy Weir

Disco is dead for a reason. I fear it is about to make a comeback of sorts, however, given its prominence in this wonderful movie about a near-future “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.” Everyone, I’m sure, knows the basic plot, based on the previews alone: One of the six first astronauts to walk the surface of the red planet is believed killed in a freak accident during an emergency evacuation – but he survives, stranded, with only a fraction of the supplies he will need to survive the four years before another manned mission could possibly reach him, given the realities of orbital mechanics. He has no choice but to start “sciencing the shit” out of his hopeless situation. What results is, as was the book, an amazing, uplifting tale of human endurance, innovation, cooperation, and ultimate triumph that I’m not going to make any more detailed comments on than that, except for these few:

Friday, August 28

The Seven Sacraments: Entering the Mysteries of God (2006)

By Stratford Caldecott

Not every pattern of seven in Scripture or tradition can be forced into a scheme that relates it to the seven sacraments.” So Stratford Caldecott admits on page 100 of this short but fascinating book. But if there are any patterns that can be so “forced” that he does not find and integrate into a magnificent and interlocking web of sevens that yields a wealth of insightful connections between the seven Sacraments of the Church and a host of other lists … well, I would have no idea what those might be.

This is the second book by Caldecott that I have read – less than ideally, I am reading what I would consider (in my somewhat ill-formed opinion, having discovered him only fairly recently) his “Catholic Trilogy” out of order, having started with the middle book, All Things Made New. And having proceeded directly from The Seven Sacraments into The Radiance of Being, which deals with the mysteries of existence itself, I’ve come to the conclusion that Stratford Caldecott is right up there with G. K. Chesterton in another way, beyond those noted in my blog review of All Things Made New [LINK]. He makes Christianity weird in a fascinating and beautiful way [see here with regard to GKC: LINK]. Sure, as I told my wife the other night, “I’m going to read some more Stratford Caldecott and get a headache,” trying to get my head around the concepts he throws around makes my head hurt, but I think that is just my mind being forcibly expanded – to the better.

Tuesday, August 25

How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem (2015)

By Rod Dreher

I’m not a big fan of self-help books. To be fair, of course, there’s nothing wrong with them, and I’m sure they help a lot of people. But none of them, however valuable they look like they might be, ever hold my attention long enough for me to get anything of worth out of them. This book is not, strictly speaking, a “self-help book,” but the extended title rightly hints that it does share a lot in common with that genre, taking the novel approach of describing how a 700-year-old medieval Italian poem helped modern conservative commentator Rod Dreher to put his life back on track after what I would term (he does not) a nervous breakdown, a total emotional meltdown that was wrecking even his physical health, which readers of the quasi-prequel memoir, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, would not have expected as imminent.

Saturday, August 22

Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets and Beyond (BBC 2004)

Space Ship Pegasus at Europa
Directed by Joseph Ahearne

Even though it never made it into my "currently-reading" sidebar, and I haven't blogged about it yet, I just got finished reading Andy Weir's The Martian, soon to be a major motion-picture starring Matt Damon. In case I don't get around to blogging it soon or ever, it is amazing! Really good, essentially contemporary hard-science fiction is so rare; I enjoyed the hell out of it, and the trailers for the movie look like they are going to follow the story almost slavishly. (There's one thing I spotted in the trailer that leads me to think they're going to change something about the main character's background to up the emotional ante, so to speak.) Anyway, when I finished it, I was wanting more, and I thought about an old faux-documentary I saw about a decade ago about a "Grand Tour" of the Solar System, and a few minutes' research found it, the subject two-part faux-documentary from BBC. I downloaded it from Youtube, put it on my portable hard drive, and USB'd it to the BluRay player, and voila!, it plays just like a DVD!

Friday, July 24

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life (2013)

By Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher is another recent discovery whom I’m somewhat surprised not to have encountered earlier – or if I did, the name didn’t stick.  I do a good bit – far too much, if the truth be told – of what I call “net’surfing,” tending to concentrate in the more conservative political and religious corners of the Internet, but The American Conservative is not a site that I make a point to visit unless I’m taken there by some link that looks interesting. Nonetheless, given the subject matter which Dreher tends to write about, I’d be surprised if one or more of those interesting-looking links would not have taken me to something by him from time to time. Nevertheless, I don’t recall his name impressing itself upon my consciousness until just a couple of months ago. I was visiting with my mother, and we were watching The World Over on EWTN. That night, host Raymond Arroyo was interviewing guest Dreher, specifically about his most recently published book, How Dante Can Save Your Life (which I am currently reading).

Tuesday, July 21

The King’s Deryni: A Novel of the Deryni (2014)

By Katherine Kurtz

And this is the latest-published in the venerable series, the sixteenth novel, the one which a couple of months ago I discovered had been published just before the end of last year, the prospect of reading which launched me onto the deepest re-entry into the quasi-medieval fantasy world created by Katherine Kurtz that I have experienced in thirty years or more. Recently previous posts [LINK and LINK] have detailed my rereading of the now-forty-years-old “opening” trilogy, the “Chronicles of the Deryni,” and my reactions thereto; now it’s time to discuss this most recent offering.

Friday, July 17

On Stratford Caldecott (1953-2014) and All Things Made New (2011)

I give this “review” the unusual title because, although it indeed began as something of a review of the book, All Things Made New: The Mysteries of the World in Christ, on this the first anniversary of his untimely death it ended up becoming far more a belated tribute to an author I regret not discovering long ago, Stratford Caldecott, M.A. (Oxon.), FRSA (Friend of the Royal Society of Arts). Known as “Strat” to his many friends, he was by all accounts greatly beloved by all who knew him, or knew of him – ultimately even by superheroes! Truly, the more I have learned about him in the past few months, the more I have discovered in Stratford Caldecott a kindred spirit whom I would have loved to have had a chance to meet over a brew or few. The conversation would doubtless have been epic!

Saturday, June 27

Deryni Checkmate (1972, Rev. Ed. 2005) and High Deryni (1973, Rev. Ed. 2007)

By Katherine Kurtz

I previously wrote [LINK] of my history with this series and what brought me back, thirty-odd years after the last time I read it, to the opening trilogy which is collectively called The Chronicles of the Deryni (although that title would now, I think, better serve as a title for the series as a whole). I won’t retread that ground here but rather dive straight off into a few thoughts about the second and third books, which will be intermingled with my thoughts both on the trilogy as a whole and the series as a whole.