Sunday, May 1

The Everlasting Man (1923), Saint Francis of Assisi (1925), and Essential Writings (ed. 2003)

By G. K. Chesterton (Essential Writings ed. William Griffin, 2003) 

The Everlasting Man is probably the book that has languished on my Recently Read and to be Blogged list the longest … so that “Recently” has to be interpreted pretty loosely. As described in the past, I “discovered” Chesterton in early 2014, with Orthodoxy (1908) being my first bit of Lenten reading … that turned into a couple of reads over the next few months before I finally blogged about it in June [LINK]. By that time I had already described my “history” with Chesterton in a post about The Ballad of the White Horse, to which I would also refer the reader [LINK]. Thirdly, I would point to my post from March 2015 when I attended the first Louisiana Chesterton Conference [LINK] – which experience inspired me to organize the Chesterton Society of Natchitoches [LINK], which meets weekly to read and discuss his writings. In any case, almost two years ago I proceeded read The Everlasting Man twice back-to-back and was as floored by its wit and wisdom as I had been by Orthodoxy.

A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in Scripture (1998) and The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth (1999)

By Scott Hahn

With a great deal of presumption, I have taken to calling Scott Hahn my spiritual brother, since a couple of years ago I discovered that we, both raised Protestant, were received into the Holy Roman Catholic Church on the same evening, during the Easter Vigil of 1986 – half a continent apart, of course. I’ve been aware of him as Catholic scholar and apologist supreme for a great deal of the intervening time, at least since the mid 1990s. I hadn’t actually read any of his books until the last couple of years, however. But then our parish distributed free copies of his and his wife, Kimberly’s conversion story, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism (1993), which I read and blogged about as part of my Lenten reading for 2014 [LINK]. At some point subsequent to that, I acquired and listened to an audio talk based upon The Lamb’s Supper, giving more detail to the story of his conversion and how it came through intense study of the Book of Revelation, interpreting it through the lens of the Mass; the book fleshes that interpretive scheme out even further. Then, for my Lenten reading 2015 I undertook A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

The Radiance of Being: Dimensions of Cosmic Christianity (2013)

By Stratford Caldecott

Last year, of course, I read – in backwards order – the first two books of what might be termed the late Stratford Caldecott’s “Catholic Trilogy,” The Seven Sacraments [LINK] and All Things Made New [LINK]. See especially the latter – the second review written on the book first read – for my tribute to Caldecott on the one-year anniversary of his untimely death. I remarked in the former of those reviews – on the book first written but second read – that like G. K. Chesterton, Caldecott “[made] Christianity weird in a fascinating and beautiful way.” That was written with regard to my reading of this very tome. As the previous books are extended and eclectic discourses dominated by the many well-known to obscure significances of the numbers “7” and “12” in Biblical and Christian lore, so is this latter book focused on the fundamental nature of “3.” Caldecott ranged farther and wider than merely the Judaeo-Christian tradition as well, finding fundamental echoes of the Trinitarian principle in Islam, Buddhism and other Eastern mysticisms, as well as modern cutting-edge existential quantum physics. It is a head-splitting, mind-blowing, consciousness-expanding experience that, quite frankly, months later I still find myself mulling over at the oddest times…. I’m sure at some point I will once more be telling my wife, “I’m going to read some more Stratford Caldecott and get a headache,” as I plunge into this book again.

One reason this particular review was so long in coming is that I struggled to find some approach that does it justice. I made several attempts over a couple of months, but each sputtered to a halt a couple of paragraphs in. Ultimately, I'm deciding to go decidedly minimalist, and leave my comments to those above, along with the recommendation that the trilogy which this book closes is well worth reading and meditating on. I'm not actually sure whether reading them in any particular order makes much difference, except that I do remember All Things Made New referring back to The Seven Sacraments on a couple of occasions.

Cheers, and Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 30

Various Things I’ve Read in the Past Couple of Years

Obviously, if you look at the Blog Archive at left, you’ll see that my posting to this blog has dwindled to barely a trickle in the past couple of years. There are several reasons for that. One is just simply having less time – I’m now more involved than ever in my church. One is that for a long time the bulk of my postings here resulted from a rather heavy schedule of comic-book reading and compulsive reviewing that left me burned out on that a couple of years ago, even as in my opinion DC Comics’ output largely went off in directions that I have little interest in following, such that at present – and for most of the past year – I’ve not been buying and reading monthly issues anymore at all, and have been picking up very few of the trade collections that they’ve put out. Finally – and this is at least somewhat related to both of the above – my interests have undergone another of my periodic shifts, this time back toward reading a lot more religious and spiritual material than I did for a long time. Personally, I think that’s a good thing for my soul, but it’s not something I’m usually as interested in blogging about as the largely meaningless comic books or other fiction that I was engrossed in for many years before the past couple.

Monday, April 11

Great News for America: The Constitution, Freedom and Prosperity are Coming Back! (2016)

By Gerard Francis Lameiro, Ph.D.

This book was recently reviewed [LINK] on a website I follow, Maccabee Society: A Journal and Community for Men [LINK] (“Men” should have “Conservative Christian” in front of it; the site is kind of like The Art of Manliness [LINK] with a specifically Christian slant). The author purports to analyse American history and predicts, based on historical cycles and so forth, that we’re about to experience a conservative groundswell/landslide in the upcoming elections that will transform the United States for a generation, resetting American government back to what the Founding Fathers intended.

Needing a little good news in what seems like a constant barrage of bad news on just about every front, I grabbed this book on Kindle and read it over the next few evenings after the aforementioned review appeared, then gave myself a couple days to digest it. Unfortunately, my initial impression did not change upon reflection. I found this book to be so unrealistically optimistic (as well as extremely poorly written and edited) as to be laughable – and no encouragement whatsoever. It is a great exercise in wishful thinking and nothing more. Besides ignoring how deeply entrenched the entitlement culture is in our society, Lameiro does not deal with the fact that there really is no viable conservative candidate still in the 2016 race that he sees as the key “inflexion point.” Trump certainly is not "conservative" no matter how he tries to sell himself as such today. Cruz is still in it, of course, but despite my personal preference for him among the announced candidates almost from the beginning of the '16 campaign, the sad fact is that he polarizes so greatly that I think having him as the nominee – which is unlikely given the current delegate numbers unless the Republicans blow up the convention to keep Trump out, which would be a disaster because Trump would then go rogue third party and split the vote – would assure a Democrat victory. The same is true, although perhaps to a lesser extent, if the Republicans put up someone else (Ryan? -- based on some of Lameiro’s recent posts at his book-centered blog [LINK], he seems to lean that way) which would, I think, end up losing at least some of Cruz's support from sheer pissed-offness. Without naming names, Lameiro seems to attempt to address those possibilities in the abstract, but not convincingly.

I just do not see an upsurge of truly conservative values-based governance – or a demand for such from the American people – coming. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong – and it would please me greatly to be able to revisit this post in eight months or so and eat crow – but I don't think it's going to happen. I really think our country passed the tipping point with the 2012 re-election of Obama (who had already proven himself the worst President we'd ever had, and has since descended even deeper into partisan disgrace), as I said then in my blog-commentary, "eyes wide open" [LINK].

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 4

Musings on a Second Viewing of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

This is actually being written several days after the fact. On Friday I went to another matinee showing of Dawn of Justice, this time with a friend. I enjoyed it again, maybe even more. What's more, my friend – who did not, by the way, see Man of Steel at all – also enjoyed it, although he is not a comics fan. About ten years older than myself, he has what I figure is pretty much a normal familiarity with the characters, based on reading comic books when he was young. And he enjoyed it. Which, along with the generally-positive audience assessments reported even by Rotten Tomatoes, further confirms for me that the critics' panning of the movie is largely rubbish. 

I definitely picked up on a couple more things, as well – Lex did turn over the painting so that the demons were coming out of heaven; the music when Wonder Woman was introduced was foreshadowed when Bruce opened the file containing her World War I picture. Given that Hans Zimmer was joined in the music credits by another name (I don't remember it, but it's the same as has been announced for the upcoming Wonder Woman solo movie), I think we got a preview of the general style of music we have to look forward to there. I can't say it's really to my liking. Oh well.

I still think overall the movie had some uneven editing, particularly in the beginning. But I do not agree with those critics who call the movie unrelentingly “joyless” or that Superman never cracks a smile – or worse, that he was utterly alien and unrelatable. I think he was all too human in his emotional turmoil given the seriousness of the situation. It was a serious movie, overall – like most “serious” comic book movies marred by the requisite world-threatening menace at the end – but a serious movie with serious underlying themes of conflicted humanity vs. The Other, matters of appearance and perspective, and – as pointed out in one brilliant review I read but have typically lost – how the media drive that. It was not a Marvel movie. And those people wanting to see a Marvel movie were doubtless the most disappointed in this movie. There, I said it. This – was – not – a – Marvel – movie. And in those places where it tried the most to be one – Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor – it was at its weakest. But overall, I was pleased with it, more so than I feared I would be given how far I knew it was departing from what I believed the sequel to Man of Steel should be. Frankly, that was not going to happen, given the virtual imperative in these kinds of movies to always outdo the last one in sheer spectacle, which usually comes at the expense of story.

One other impression I did have, in conclusion. I did not time things, but I was surprised at how, this go’round, it seemed that the fight-scenes at the end were relatively brief and swiftly told. I think they loom largest in our memories because they are virtually the last things that are seen, but I wonder just what percentage of the running time of this movie they really are, as opposed to story/plot/narrative…?

That's pretty much all I have to say about that. Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 28

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Directed by Zack Snyder

This review of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice will not be the mammoth dissection that was my review of Man of Steel three years ago [LINK]. This is just going to be a short statement of my own impressions, with no intent to argue or justify my points. What would be the purpose? The critics have spoken, and as happened with John Carter and Green Lantern both, what may have begun as legitimate criticisms seems to have started feeding on themselves as critics seem more interested now in outdoing their peers in showing how clever can be their criticisms than in providing reasoned analysis and evaluation. The audience seems to have received the movie more kindly. For what it’s worth, the Rotten Tomatoes scores are quite divergent (approximately 28/72), far more so than for Man of Steel (approximately 56/76). (I found it really interesting last week how the initial critics’ assessments were quite a bit more in line with Man of Steel than the ones that started coming out later – when the later critics had had time to figure out which way the wind was blowing and the piling-on had time to begin.) Don’t get me wrong. This is obviously not a movie for everyone, and it is a movie that does have its shortcomings, particularly an uneven pacing as well as a couple of things highlighted below. It is ultimately, I believe, less a movie for general audiences than it was a movie for me and someone like me – a life-long comic-book fan with a deep love for these characters (one I do not have for the Marvel Universe, which means I admittedly approach those movies with a degree of objectivity that is not possible for me in this case). I can easily see how someone who does not have that love – and the innate knowledge of myriad story-lines and images accumulated over fifty years of reading DC Comics – would be left cold by it. All I can ultimately say is that I enjoyed BVS:DOJ  very much and look forward to seeing future installments in the DC Movie Universe that is emerging from what I consider to have been a similarly – albeit not to the same degree -- maligned Man of Steel.

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: