Friday, September 28, 2012

Looper (2012)


An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost [WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS]:
At the heart of this highly enjoyable film is the idea that Love Conquers All. Future Joe waxes eloquent about his wonderful-but-now-dead (then-dead?) wife and how by her love she saved him from his awful life of drugs and crime. Similarly, Sarah is determined to love Sid unconditionally, and is convinced that her love will shape him and will enable him to control his temper and use his considerable powers for good. In this world, love is the greatest agent of change. How sweet. 
But difficulties arise. (Don’t they always?) Future Joe’s wife is murdered, and he is determined to avenge/save her, no matter the cost. He is perfectly willing to gun down all the little John Connors, even though he knows only one of them will become the man responsible for his wife’s death.  And we learn that watching Sarah’s death will be the major factor contributing to Sid’s ‘bad dude’ future. This love, the love that was supposed to save both Sid and Future Joe, turns out to have the power to corrupt and destroy.
Full review available here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)


An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
To Sarah Connor, an ideal father is defined by what he does. Love is action. And as Christians, we might agree; after all, ‘greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:13) And [spoiler] that is precisely what the Terminator does—he endures a wince-inducing beating in order to protect John, and, when push comes to shove, he sacrifices himself in order to save mankind from the horrors they would otherwise endure on Judgment Day.  In many ways, this is a striking picture of the gospel—of God’s love for His people and His willingness to take on Himself the penalty for their sins in order to reconcile them to Himself and save them from the wrath to come. 
But there’s something missing, isn’t there? After all, the Terminator, as honorable as his actions may be, is only doing what he has been programmed to do. We want to believe he loves John Connor, but the truth is, he’s all action and no heart.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Confessions, by Saint Augustine


The well-known autobiography of the Bishop of Hippo, beginning with his infancy and ending with his conversion to Christianity, plus some philosophical musings on memory, time, and the creation of the world. The whole thing is written as a confession to God, addressed to Him directly.

I heard somewhere that someone (possibly R.C. Sproul?) once said that if you've been a Christian for two years or more and haven't read Augustine's Confessions, you're sinning.


Anyhow, better late than never, right? Though, to be fair, I did take a crack at The Confessions a few years back, but it was in audiobook format, and man, was that a slog. I pretty much bailed right around Augustine's toddler years. But it stayed on my 'to read' list and I finally got around to it. And I have to admit, I was kind of underwhelmed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Please Pass the Guilt, by Rex Stout


Kenneth Meer has blood on his hands. Not that anyone else can see it, mind you. But he's convinced that it's there all the same. Is he just crazy? Or could there be some actual murder afoot? When Doc Vollmer calls in a favor and asks Wolfe to look into the reason for Meer's delusion, the big man finds himself smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation--and murder by bomb, no less. But therein lies another mystery: the bomb was in the drawer of Amory Browning, a television mogul. But it was another mogul, Frank O'Dell, who opened the drawer and got himself blowed up. Now Wolfe (with an assist from Archie, Saul, Fred, and Orrie) has to solve not one but two mysteries: Who put the bomb in the drawer? And who was the intended victim?

Monday, September 24, 2012

True Grit, by Charles Portis


An excerpt of a review posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Still, for all [Mattie's] bible thumping and “moral” behavior, there does not appear to be much evidence of grace in her life. Her quest for Chaney, though in her eyes merely the pursuit of justice, is vengeance, plain and simple. Sure, she wants to bring him back so the law can punish him for his crime. But if she can’t, she’ll shoot him where he stands. And when La Beouf tries to convince her that it’s all the same whether Chaney stands trial for her father’s murder or for the murder of another man, Mattie is adamant that Chaney be punished—and know he is being punished—for killing her father. Her passion is not for justice, but for revenge. She is perfectly willing to let other, more culpable individuals go free; her only concern is Chaney. The others have not wronged her personally, so she doesn’t much care one way or another whether they are brought to justice. But Chaney has wronged her family, so Chaney must pay. Even when Mattie experiences the high cost of vengeance, she remains utterly convinced that she did the right thing. Personal forgiveness is never even mentioned as a possibility. She speaks about the grace of God, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect on the way she lives her life.
Full review available here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Before Midnight, by Rex Stout


Everyone's talking about the Pour Amour perfume contest . . . and the million dollars in prize money that will be awarded to the lucky winners who can solve the cosmetics-related riddles put out by the company. The contest has been a roaring success. The five finalists are assembled in New York City, and the last five riddles have been distributed. Everything's going swimmingly . . . until the contest creator winds up dead, and the list of answers he had in his pocket is nowhere to be found. So the advertising execs do what any reasonably person would do: they head straight for the office of Nero Wolfe and hire him to figure out who took the list of answers, and to find a way to resolve the contest. But there's a catch: he has to finish the job before midnight on April 19th.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Inkheart (2008)


When Mo Folchart reads aloud, books come alive. No, really. If he reads about treasure, treasure appears. If he reads about a bloodthirsty villain, look out--a bloodthirsty villain just might pop up and knock you on the head. This talent is, as you can imagine, quite valuable to certain unpleasant people--people who are determined to make the most of Mo's gift. But there's a problem. Well, two problems. First, Mo can't control what comes out of the book. If he's reading Ali Baba's adventures in 1001 Arabian Nights, for example, you might wind up with treasure. You might also wind up with one or more of the forty thieves, or with more sand than you know what to do with. The second problem is even worse: for everything that comes out of a book, something from the real world must go in. Mo discovered this terrible side-effect years before, when he was reading aloud to his daughter Meggie . . . and his wife Teresa disappeared from sight. Turns out she was sucked into the book he was reading: Inkheart. Mo's determined to read her back out again, but he's having a devil of a time locating a copy of the book. And no wonder--the villain Capricorn, accidentally read out by Mo, has been methodically tracking down and destroying all the copies of the book he can find. Meanwhile, carnival performer Dustfinger, also read out by Mo, is desperate to be read back into the story where he belongs. With the assistance of Mo's book-loving great aunt Elinor, Mo and Meggie (and occasionally Dustfinger) must find a way to vanquish Capricorn and put everything (and everyone) back where it belongs.

This movie really should have been better than it was.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dead Cert, by Dick Francis


Bill Davidson has everything--a doting wife, three adoring children, the best hunter 'chaser in the country, a reputation as the best amateur steeplechase jockey going, and more than enough money to finance it all. Then one day, his prize horse Admiral takes a nasty fall during a race, and Bill Davidson winds up dead. Everyone shrugs it off as an unfortunate accident--everyone, that is, except Alan York, best friend to the dearly departed. Alan's convinced there was something not quite right about Bill's fall, and he's determined to get to the bottom of it. But Alan finds out the hard way that asking questions can have unpleasant consequences, and could end up costing him everything . . .

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mossflower, by Brian Jacques


Things have come to a pretty pass in the once-idyllic Mossflower Wood. The cruel (and unstable) wildcat Tsarmina rules over the land from her fortress Kotir, and the woodlanders are forced to turn over more and more of their food to feed Tsarmina's armies. Any resistance is immediately--and mercilessly--punished. And anyway, what chance do a bunch of mice and hedgehogs have against the hordes of weasels, ferrets, rats, and stoats . . . to say nothing of their wicked leader, Tsarmina? Then one day, a young mouse wanders into Mossflower Wood. But this isn't just any mouse--this is Martin the Warrior, veteran fighter from the North. With the assistance of a roguish mouse thief, a good-hearted mole, a misplaced shrew leader, a band of rather obstreperous hares, and a warlike old badger--to say nothing of Mossflower's own crackerjack troops of squirrel archers, fighting otters, and digging moles--Martin takes on the tyrant of Kotir, and he's determined to drive her and hers out of Mossflower and win freedom for the woodlanders . . . or die trying.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why Shoot a Butler?, by Georgette Heyer


Dawson, the Fountain family butler, is dead. He was sitting in his car, on the side of the road, at night, and someone shot him. But who? What of the exceedingly uncooperative (and rather rude) Miss Brown, who keeps popping up in the strangest places? Could she be the culprit? What about her perpetually drunk brother Mark? Or the creepy Fountain valet with a nasty habit of listening at keyholes? And why? Was it just bandits, or is there a more sinister force at work? The police are stymied. Fortunately, young barrister Frank Amberley is in town to visit his family, and the police quickly enlist his assistance. But Frank isn't entirely sure he wants to help the police just yet. He is convinced that there's more to this mess than meets the eye--that the murder is, in fact, the least interesting part of the mystery. But before long, there's another death, and Frank must get to the bottom of it all before anyone else meets an untimely end.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Grey


An excerpt of a review posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Riders of the Purple Sage is often listed among the best novels the Western genre has to offer. While Zane Grey’s pulp roots show through, his rich descriptions of the Utah landscape are extremely evocative, and he’s managed to create some fairly compelling characters in Jane, Lassiter, Venters, and the girl he befriends. Grey’s focus on friendship, religion, family, and even marriage (as well as the strength of his female characters) will likely endear him to fans of more romantic authors like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë—authors whose fan base tends to skew more to the feminine side. Don’t get me wrong. There is action here (gunfights, chase scenes, etc.), but the focus here is on the indirect way the Mormons exert their power over Jane. They work behind the scenes, so confrontation rarely occurs. Indeed, Grey highlights both the cowardice and the wickedness of this oblique approach by contrasting the conniving Mormon methods with the more direct (and thus somehow less despicable) actions of the local gang of cattle rustlers.
Full review available here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Sacred Science (2011)


Eight people, suffering from eight different 'illnesses' and dissatisfied with Western medicine, trek into the Amazon rainforest to be treated by the shamans there. The shamans prescribe a variety of herbal and other remedies, with mixed results.

The pitch for this documentary is a bit ... misleading. First, let's talk about the 'illnesses'. Some of them are just that--there are three folks with cancer (breast, prostrate, and neuroendochrine), two gals with G.I. issues (I.B.S. and Crohn's), a woman with Parkinson's, and a man with diabetes. But then there's the guy who struggles with alcoholism and depression (it is not clear whether he is clinically, biochemically depressed, or if the depression is merely a side effect of the alcohol abuse). The narrator claims they are each looking for a 'cure', but it is not clear whether, say, the diabetic is hoping to no longer be diabetic at all, or merely looking for a way to manage his symptoms; ditto the woman with Parkinson's. So right off the bat, we have possible issues with definitions.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)


Hellboy (a.k.a. 'Red') and the B.P.R.D. are back for another installment--this time facing off against the elf prince Nuada, who is hell-bent (heh) on reviving the long-dormant 'Golden Army', a horde of indestructible mechanical soldiers built by goblin blacksmiths long ago. The Golden Army is more than capable of wiping out the human race, but is held in check by the longstanding truce between men (who agreed to keep to the cities) and elves (who retained control of the forest). But times have changed, and the humans aren't living up to their side of the bargain, and Prince Nuada has had enough. Hellboy--with an assist from his pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz, the amphibious humanoid Abe Sapiens, ectoplasmic medium Johann Krauss, and Nuada's twin sister Nuala--must keep Nuada from collecting the three pieces of the ancient crown that, once united, will reactivate the Golden Army. Meanwhile, Liz has to make some tough decisions about her future . . . and Red's.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)


Professor Albert Wilmarth is a skeptic. He is an expert in folklore, but he knows better than to actually believe any of that nonsense. So when tales surface of strange happenings in the hills of Vermont, Wilmarth is, shall we say, unimpressed by the backwoods citizens' claims that they've discovered bizarre tracks and monstrous corpses. Until, that is, he starts getting letters from Henry Akeley, a surprisingly rational and intelligent denizen of the area in question, whose son shows up with evidence to back up his father's claims: a recording of an unearthly voice incanting an unknown language, as well as a few photographs of the strange tracks these beings leave behind. Further correspondence bolsters Akeley's claims--tales of midnight gunfights, dogs gone missing, and a curious whispering in the dark. Wilmarth finally decides to venture into the Vermont hills to see for himself... but what will he find?

Based on H.P. Lovecraft's well-known short story "The Whisperer in Darkness", this film is the second produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society--their first film being the excellent The Call of Cthulhu (2005). As with the first movie, the filmmakers decided to tailor the medium to the time period in which the story was written. The Call of Cthulhu (written in 1926) was a silent film; The Whisperer in Darkness (written in 1930) is shot with sound, but in black and white, using a combination of vintage and modern techniques to give it the appropriate period feel.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Doorbell Rang, by Rex Stout


It is 1965, and J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI are hot topics in the public mind. Investigative journalist Fred J. Cook has just published The FBI Nobody Knows, and reader (and wealthy widow) Rachel Bruner is so incensed at its accounts of the Bureau's flagrant overreaching and abuses that she sends 10,000 copies of the controversial book to powerful people across the country. Of course, it's not long before Ms. Bruner notices that she has company everywhere she goes--federal company. The FBI is after her--following her, tapping her phones, and otherwise harassing her family and friends. There's only one man in the world who can help her now: corpulent genius and private detective Nero Wolfe. Assisted by his crackerjack second-in-command, decides to put the screws on The Man. Will he be able to protect his client from the most powerful enforcement agency in the country and, more importantly, earn the sizable fee being offered?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore


The title pretty much tells you everything you need to know--that this is a 're-telling' of Christ's life on earth from the perspective of, well, Biff, who knew Jesus (here called 'Joshua') when he was still in short pants (or the first century Hebrew equivalent). Biff sticks with his pal through thick and thin, through childhood, into young adulthood and a time of self-discovery (the boys track down the three magi who made an appearance at (or around) the first Christmas, in the hope that they can teach Jesus how to be a better Messiah), and culminating in Christ's earthly ministry and death. Biff narration stops shortly after the crucifixion; he is not around for the aftermath, but learns of the resurrection later on, when he himself is 'resurrected' to write his version of events (that is, this book).

Not the best book ever, but much better than I expected. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Moore addressed Jesus' claims directly and assumed that He was in fact who He said He was. (It can be tempting for modern writers to argue that Jesus was not in fact the Son of God, and that He never claimed to be. Tempting, but clearly contrary to His explicit statements in the Bible.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blood and Whiskey: A Cowboy and Vampire Thriller, by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall


A perfectly serviceable sequel to the surprisingly readable The Cowboy and the Vampire.

This installment starts off with Lenny, our favorite conspiracy theorist/munitions expert/militiaman--or rather, with his niece Rose. Rose has been living on the streets in Portland, but a run-in with some very well-dressed cowboys scares her into calling her uncle, and he and BFF Tucker barrel into town, gun a-blazin'. Trouble is, Rose ain't in Portland anymore, and when the two friends run her to earth, they don't like what they find.

Meanwhile, Vampire Queen (and momma to be) Lizzie is having trouble adjusting to her new responsibilities. The fate of her race rests squarely on her sassy shoulders, and it all depends on whether she can 'turn' humans into vampires, thus swelling the diminished ranks of the 'good' vampires (those who eat only bad people) and enabling them to resist the Reptiles (who eat pretty much anyone). She's got to prove her mettle to a whole horde of vampire overlords and deal with some unexpected (and very nasty) visitors, all while protecting the new life (or unlife) growing inside her. Will she be able to save her loved ones . . . and the world?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, by Mark & Grace Driscoll


A day late and a dollar short is better than never, right?

Mark Driscoll, the shock jock of the Reformed world, waded into the marriage book fray earlier this year with Real Marriage, which is essentially his sermon series on the Song of Solomon distilled into book form. And not distilled all that well, honestly. I suspect many interns were involved, which may explain the rather scattered and disjointed feel of the book.

But let's be honest: Average-to-below-average writing is not exactly unheard of in the evangelical (or even the Reformed) world. And Driscoll's a preacher, not a writer. So let's cut him some slack on the presentation and dive into the substance.

The pros of this book, at least according to the many, many reviews I've seen, are twofold: 1) Driscoll sticks to his complementarian (albeit hyper-masculine) guns, and 2) he addresses the (heretofore largely unexplored) relationship between friendship and marriage. Fair enough, I guess.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

No Wind of Blame, by Georgette Heyer


Wally Carter is a jerk. He cheats on his wealthy wife Ermyntrude, squanders her money on shady schemes, and even asks her to pay off his pregnant girlfriend (and then moans about how much it sucks for him that he's so broke he has to ask for her help with said blackmail). He's ill-tempered, greedy, and lecherous. He's an indifferent guardian to his adult ward (and heir) Mary, and completely uninterested in his stepdaughter Vicky, a young would-be actress with a penchant for making scenes and a fierce desire to protect her foolish mother from harm. In fact, pretty much the only person he gets along with is his ne'er-do-well neighbor/distant cousin Harold. So when Wally winds up dead, it's a bit of a mystery who did it--after all, there are so many choices! Was it his wronged wife, Ermyntrude? The strong, silent farmer (aptly named Steel) who dotes on her and hates to see her treated so poorly? The impoverished Russian prince who's been staying with the family and making eyes at the wealthy Ermyntrude? Or someone else altogether? When the local constable is at a loss to makes heads or tails of the matter, it becomes clear that this is a  case for Scotland Yard . . . and the delightful (and insightful) Inspector Hemingway.

As with many Heyer mysteries, the murder takes place at a country manor, and the list of suspects includes pretty much everyone staying in the house, along with a few interested neighbors.  The solution is, perhaps, a bit more convoluted than is strictly necessary, but it's still a fun story.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko


An excerpt of a review posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Years before emotionally stunted vampires first sparkled in idyllic mountain meadows, bloodthirsty creatures of the night stalked the streets of Moscow in search of human prey—and they are not the only ones.  To the vampires, shape shifters, and dark sorcerers of the world, humans are a commodity, a resource to be exploited by any means necessary to any end deemed desirable.  The only thing restraining these “Dark Ones” is a treaty with the other side—the agents of Light.  From sunset to sunrise, the Night Watch (“Light Ones”) patrols the city, monitoring the Dark Ones’ compliance with the treaty and, if necessary, punishing the less compliant.  When the sun rises, the Day Watch (Dark Ones) takes over, enforcing the treaty on the Light Ones.  And so the never-ending battle between good and evil has slowed to a Cold War—still deeply serious and intense—but tempered by the restrictions of the treaty.
Full review available here.