Tuesday, May 31, 2005

old made new

Red Mountain Church, an urban PCA plant in Birmingham, AL, has been continuing the tradition of setting ancient hymns to contemporary music. Today I discovered they have put out a third album, The Gadsby Project, and also have a website devoted just to these collections. I'm not sure how the latest addition sounds, but after browing the online materials, it appears they have mined some rich hymnody. I'm looking forward to ordering this at some point in the near future.

Memorial Daze

The holiday weekend was rainy and cool, so we didn't do too much. Which made for quite a relaxing weekend. Allison spent a good deal of time studying and working through school assignments, and we both tackled various sorting and cleaning tasks around the apartment. But overall, it was nice and quiet.

We watched Primer 2.5 times (including half with the director commentary on), and will probably buy it if we can find it cheap. What a great film. First-time filmmaker Shane Carruth has delivered a remarkable and engaging film. I guess you could call it a "science fiction" movie, but this film does not rely on spectacular special effects or technological gimmicks (since it cost ~$7000 to make). Rather, the film tells the story of two friends and part-time inventors who stumble upon some unexpected capabilities of their latest invention. Initially driven by curiosity and later carried by obsession, they quickly learn that their best planning and calculations cannot prepare them for the unexpected consequences of their actions. And despite the engrossing and disorienting plot, the film is really driven by the characters, their relationships, and their reactions to their situations. That being said, the plot is pretty crazy to follow. One should be prepared to invest time in multiple viewings. However, even with the low-budget production values, the film is captivating enough to instill the desire to repeatedly watch it.

We also watched several episodes of Sledge Hammer! - Season One, a great television police-show parody from the mid-80's, now available on DVD. I will be honest: the show isn't as awesomely funny as I remembered. But, it is still very entertaining (in a dumb, over-the-top way), and I plan to finish watching all episodes of both seasons. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I must state for the record that I have been enjoying this show MUCH more than Allison has.)

We also finished reading The Austere Academy, the fifth installment of the Lemony Snicket books. We have enjoyed reading these books, for numerous reasons. This one was the best so far, especially since it (and four, to a lesser degree) diverged from the formulaic plot structure of the first three.

One funny occurrence: we were watching television one evening and I looked out on our porch to see a squirrel attempting to pilfer from our birdfeeder. Because we live in a third floor apartment, with the closest trees twenty yards away, we've never had any issues with squirrels. But, this wayward fellow somehow managed to get up to our porch. It was amusing to watch him perched precariously, as he made it atop the feeder, which is attached by a single chain to the ceiling. The little guy looked pretty scared, since he was a bit too big to be on the feeder, which wobbled and swayed with even the slightest movement of the squirrel. Finally, I decided to open the sliding door and scare him off. When I did so, the startled squirrel jumped/fell backwards -- falling all three stories down to the ground level. He seemed to be alright, though, and scurried into the woods behind the apartment. I wonder if he'll be brave enough to return ...

Friday, May 27, 2005

Did DaVinci get Left Behind?

Ok, so in the midst of my intense three-week MayMester on 20th Century American Poetry, I took a "mind break" and read The DaVinci Code over the course of the last three nights. Besides all of the historical inaccuracies and sickening references to rituals and goddess worship (the last page almost made me want to throw up), I wondered if Dan Brown learned how to write a bestseller at the feet of Jerry B. Jenkins?

With hundreds of cliched phrases peppered through the novel--- memorable examples include someone who "cut through traffic like a knife" and descriptions of a chapel with "doves cooing in the eaves"-- he had to have taken some pointers from Mr. Cheesy Thriller himself. Not to mention the "cool technology" incorporated into the book-- as soon as they got into the Land Rover, visions of Buck fleeing from the Tribulation danced in my head. Let's see, what other similarities arose-- there's a daughter of an important figure in the book who becomes the love interest of an investigative skeptic, a powerful (surprise!) bad guy with world-wide connections, and of course, references to the "End of Days." I want to know what in the world qualifies Dan Brown as "One of the most intelligent and dynamic authors in the genre"? Is it because of his knowledge of the art history and secret societies? He probably just got the idea from his wife. Most likely it is his alternative history scenario, and that alone, that accrues any sort of accolades or media interest. Surely they cannot compliment his writing?

Sadly, I kept thinking that despite the aberrant theology and blatant disregard of the Catholic Church (or perhaps because of it), and though the anti-Christian bias should create intense cognitive dissonance, I believe that some of the same people who gobble down the Left Behind series might also be suckered into thinking this stuff is good. At least, it would encourage the same types of readers: those who enjoy reading about people who decipher obscure references in ancient art/texts and apply them to some version of world events. Of course, one thing I can say for Brown is that at least he understands the concept of figurative language.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Thank You, Decent Films

Yes, Episode III has it's glaring errors. Yes, the dialogue is bad in places. Yes, Lucas's love scenes between Padme and Anakin are not convincing. But I still liked it. A lot. This is the first reviewer I've read who captured what I was trying to say below:

What makes the failure of the first two films so glaring, now, is that with Revenge of the Sith Lucas has finally again tapped into the inspiration of the original trilogy, and created the mythic precursor that he first conceived decades ago. Perhaps he really only had one real Star Wars prequel in him, and didn’t know how to properly set it up with the first two episodes. ...

Yet, crippled as he is by the decisions of the first two films, Lucas still manages to invest the final chapter of his sprawling space opera with the grandly operatic spirit of the original trilogy. It’s still cornball, yes, and with all the usual weaknesses. But Episode III at last has heart.

Revenge of the Sith is the first of the prequels that echoes elements in the original trilogy in such a way as to enhance the original films.

Tradition and Modern Hymnody

In T.S. Eliot's critical essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent," the author touches upon some ideas I think would be beneficial if applied to contemporary church music. Those who take it upon themselves to write new "songs, hymns, and spiritual songs," I think, should be traditionalists according to Eliot's definition.

In this, he encouages any new artist to realize their place among the entire literary (or, perhaps, musical) canon. And I think that too many songwriters have fogotten this notion. Being a traditional artist does not mean mindlessly repeating what has gone before, nor does it mean merely passing down work from the previous generation. (The whole of creative Christian music and song did not begin in the late nineteenth century.) According to Eliot, his view of writing encompasses all of history. And, I would add for hymnody, that it would include works created in all places at all times, so that the church of the entire world would be included, not just our Western sensibilities.

Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, "tradition" should positively be discouraged. ...Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.

No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of ├Žsthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.

(emphasis mine)

Programming Note

Errol Morris' Vernon, Florida - cult classic and perennial favorite of Team Redd - is finally being released on DVD, on July 26. This documentary about life in small town, panhandle Florida defies attempts at description. So mark your calendars and check it out.



This film can also be purchased as part of The Errol Morris DVD Collection, which also includes Gates of Heaven (a charming look at the pet cemetery business) and The Thin Blue Line (which we have not seen, but the film apparently helped free a man wrongly-convicted of murder).

Friday, May 20, 2005

My lack of faith was disturbing ...

I wanted to do more of a write-up for Episode III, but I'm still recuperating. Man, am I sorry that I sat next to this guy!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cosmic Clashes

My succinct review (Gaines, I'm sure, will be forthcoming with further details of our late-night adventures):

In my opinion, Episode III re-establishes George Lucas as a mythmaker. There is now a richer, fuller story that undergirds the saga, and consequently, the original three films will take on new meaning. Star Wars has returned.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Creative Gift Ideas

(I'm attempting to keep up the "C" trend.)

My 25th birthday is exactly one month away (June 18th), and in a shameless, selfish attempt to receive presents, I wanted to list some of the things I would like to have. (Perhaps, though, it is more of a considerate gesture: so that my family and friends who read this blog won't have to wonder where to go shopping!)

1. Target gift card(s)

2. Cash for clothes (or a gift card from Old Navy, Petite Sophisticate, or J. Jill)

3. Amazon.com gift certificate or anything off of my Wish List

4. A compact ESV Bible. (I'm scared of the glow-in-the-dark ones, but I like leather. Or even leather-like. I really like this one, but it won't be out for a while. That's ok. Perhaps, though, metal would be good for a compact since I have a habit of dropping things...)

5. A purse like the one Erin got for graduation (It's so fun!)

So, um, feel free to pass these along.... ;)

Confessions

I must confess my utter irresponsibility: despite having work/school tomorrow, we are seeing Episode III at 12:01 AM tonight, er, tomorrow morning.

Although I will not be wearing a costume, I must confess that I will be proudly toting my Yoda hand puppet (just as I did for Ep. II). I must confess that some of the folks in our group will be in costume.

I must also confess that I'm pretty excited about this film. George Lucas, please don't break my heart (again).

Congrats

Congratulations to my sister Erin, who graduated from High School last night. Woo hoo! Erin and I actually graduated from the same academic magnet program, although it was located at a different high school in my day. So I guess that makes us step-alumni? It was interesting seeing some of my old teachers at the ceremony ...

By the way: when did graduates start flipping their tassels to the left immediately after receiving their diplomas (i.e., while walking off-stage)? I distinctly remember, at both my HS and college graduations, flipping tassels in unison as a class after the last diploma was awarded.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Critical Criticism

As mentioned, books were read and movies were watched during our week off. Just in case you were wondering, here's a recap:

Books

Paul For Everyone: Romans Part 1: Okay, this may be cheating, since I finished 3/4 of the book before vacation started. But I just wanted to plug Tom Wright's For Everyone books, since this was my first foray into the series. As the name implies, these books are intended for laypersons; however, they still give the basic shape of Wright's theology and approach to the Scriptures. Wright has the ability to vigorously engage in dialogue at the highest levels of academia, yet he is still able to communicate directly, clearly and pastorally to those without the benefit of years of theological training. He writes both to the head and to the heart. This combination is, unfortunately, all too lacking in many discussions of the Scriptures. Of course, as a lay-level guide, the book does not address everything I'd like to see. So, after finishing Part Two, I guess it's time to take a crack at his big Romans commentary.

Leave It to Psmith: Why did I wait so long to discover P.G. Wodehouse? The delay was definitely my loss. Quite an enjoyable read, and I think I started to annoy Allison with my frequent chuckling. Plus, dash it all, I think I have subconciously imported a bunch of new slang. Apparently, my friend Paul has some Wodehouse on his bookshelf. Not for long! Mwah hah hah.

The DaVinci Code: If the two books above were the good, Dan Brown's blockbuster serves as both the bad and the ugly. Even though I already knew a fair amount about the book, I always like to read things first-hand. I will give Brown credit for being able to weave a story in a way that keeps you hooked until the very end. But after finishing the book, one looks back and wonders, "I read all 400+ pages for what?" The characters are pretty bland, although Brown adds "depth" by making one an albino and one a cripple, as well as by punctuating the book with smatterings of untranslated French and Latin. It falls well within the parameters for a "beach book" -- that is, a page-turner that makes few intellectual demands on the reader and is suitable for reading by the beach/pool/etc during vacation. Except, the "historical basis" for the book is presented as uncontested fact. I had to aggressively suppress the cognitive dissonance experienced during many of the presentations of "historical fact" throughout the book. Fortunately, the chapters averaged about 2-3 pages each, so I could quickly move along. (The Tektonics web site has a pretty good review of the book that addresses many of the related issues of historical scholarship and what not.)

Films

The Alamo: Better-than-average tale of the defense of the ill-fated Spanish mission. Although the film seemed to lag in several places, the cast (particularly Dennis Quaid, Jason Patric and even Billy Bob Thornton) really shone throughout. Unlike some previous films about the Alamo, this version highlighted the bravery of the defenders while portraying them realistically as flawed (often deeply) men. This is notably seen when Davy Crockett secretly confesses that he had considered fleeing in the night -- but he realized that his stature among the men and his corresponding responsibility made that notion impossible to entertain. Similarly, many of the Mexicans are portrayed humanely (instead of as soul-less killers), with several of the generals attempting unsuccessfully to temper Santa Anna's megalomaniacal ambitions.

National Treasure: Mindless fun! Granted, much of the story is pretty far-fetched. But once your disbelief is suspended, it was pretty fun watching Nicholas Cage and pals steal the Declaration of Independence and try to decipher the treasure map hidden on the back. I still have some reservations about Cage as an action hero (actually, as a superstar in general), but not enough to ruin the movie. Although, between this and The DaVinci Code, I've had my fill of secret codes, treasure hunts and Knights Templar to last me for a loooong time.

Films ... From Books

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: This is a film that I had been both anxiously awaiting and nervously dreading for quite some time. On the one hand, the Hitchhiker's trilogy is a series of books I have enjoyed immensely. On the other hand, there's plenty of potential to mess it up. Then again, author Douglas Adams did work on the screenplay. Then again (again), he died before it was completed. Fortunately, the end product is quite an enjoyable movie. My biggest concern going into the film: much of the humor in the series comes out of the narrative, and narrators in films don't always work. But in this case, it worked out pretty well. Although the film made use of big budget effects, it still preserves the offbeat humor which permeates Adams' works, notably in the frequent references from the title guidebook.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: We opted not to see this film right when it was released, because we wanted to read the books first. After reading the first few books, we were afraid that the film wouldn't meet our expectations. It was very similar to Hitchhiker's, actually, since the Snicket books are heavily driven by the oft-bizarre narrations by the title character, the unseen chronicler of the miseries that have befallen the poor Baudelaire orphans. The film combines (roughly) the plots of the first three books, although not completely in sequence. Despite some of the changes, the film stays true to the spirit (depressed as it is) of the books. Snicket, voiced by Jude Law, provides some great instances of the trademark offbeat narration. Although the casting of the Baudelaires wasn't what I expected (Klaus shouldn't have been so thin!), Jim Carrey does a tremendous job as the evil Count Olaf. Hmm. A character who is a terribly bad actor. What a stretch! Actually, Carrey's performances as Olaf's disguised personae are hysterical. Overall, the film was a fun adaptation of a fun series of books, and the film was well-made (the visuals were very good, and the musical score did a great job of setting the tone -- dark yet whimsical).

Anyway, that's it from my end of the Critics' Corner. Allison read some books, too, including an enormous Tom Wolfe tome. But I'll let her share about that. Now that vacation is over, it will probably be quite a while before I unleash such a flurry of reviews within such a short time! Alas. (Although, I do hope to finally finish that Marva Dawn review. Eventually.)

Goings and Doings

As mentioned, our week off was fantastically relaxing. I'll avoid the blow-by-blow recap, but the basic contour was:

  • Spent a couple of days (including Mothers Day) with my family in Montgomery. With sister Amy recently getting engaged, and sister Erin preparing to graduate high school (tomorrow!) and head off to college in the Fall, there is quite a bit of excitement at the Redd homestead.
  • Spent a few days with Allison's family in Geneva (Alabama, that is), and also visited friends in nearby Dothan. We made one of our periodic raids on the wedding present treasure trove that Allison's folks (the Lees) have kindly stored for us these last few years (due to our apartment's limited storage capacity).
  • Spent a few days at the Lees' place at Lake Martin. Did a whole lot of nothing. It was great!
  • Returned to the ATL for our Friday after-school program with the kids at our complex.
  • Made a return trip to Montgomery for Amy's engagement party, which excelled in both food and fun.

  • Even though there were several stops along the way, they were spaced out enough to allow for much rest and relaxation. Plus, the driving allowed us to give the iPod its first road test, and all was well. We managed to do a lot of leisure reading and movie watching throughout the week. More on that anon.

    Friday, May 13, 2005

    All we ever wanted

    I'm finally back at a familiar keyboard after Team Redd's well-deserved vacation. After visiting family (on both sides) for several days, we spent a few days at the lake. It was wonderfully relaxing, and will perhaps generate some movie and book reviews.

    But not today.

    Thursday, May 05, 2005

    Man Down!

    At work, I sit in a row of three cubicles directly outside the Senior Vice President's office. This row is affectionately dubbed "The Firewall," because it stands between the SVP and rest of the world. To be honest, we're not really sure in which direction the firewall operates. Of the three, I am the lowest on the totem pole in terms of "firewall activity" -- I'm the back-up to the back-up.

    Unfortunately, my cube neighbor is moving down the hall today. I guess I had better start wearing my Nomex pants.

    Wednesday, May 04, 2005

    Slugs and Bugs and Lullabys

    Woo-hoo! Archmusicgroup just sent out a newsletter with some exciting tidings:

    Two of our favorite artist-friends, Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame, are collaborating on a new project this summer. Just from the prospective album title, I can tell this is going to be FANTASTIC.

    Randall to Record Children's Record
    04/28/05

    Randall will partner up with fellow singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson for a children's record to be recorded Summer of 2005. "I've written a lot of songs for my kids, and Andy's done the same thing, so we decided to put them together and let others here them. Our kids love them so we hope other kids do as well. Not only that we are hoping that as experienced songwriters, we can craft songs that sonically are enjoyable for parents as well."

    The project, still in its early stages, is tentatively titled: Slugs and Bugs and Lullaby's: Waking & Sleeping"
    With 11 or 12 in the works, half the songs will be about the the time to wake up and play, and the rest songs when it's time to sleep. Some of the songs you'll see on the project are:
    "Who's Got The Ball", "The Post Office Song", "Most Beautiful Girl", and "Grizzly's Bears".

    Apart from the creative and musical experience, Goodgame looks forward to recording for other reasons. "Andrew is one of my best buddies, and I think it will be a great chance to spend time and working with each other for a purpose. This project has allowed us opportunites to catch up."

    Tuesday, May 03, 2005

    Found!

    One Secondary English Education graduate student, age twenty-four.

    If you lost your wife under a pile of educational literature, two-page single-spaced narrative essays, twenty-three artifacts from a year's worth of graduate work, a twenty-page case study of an English language learner, and two very large three-ring binders, please be advised that she has emerged unscathed.


    Finally, I'm done! Today I completed my HUGE portfolio for my graduate program exit requirement and certification. I swear, when I took the thing down to GSU today, it must've weighed at least 15 pounds. I also should've gone for the 4-inch binder-- mine was bursting at the seams with all the documents I had to include. Graduation is on the horizon-- only four more classes to go!

    This year, they didn't require us to submit it electronically as a website (for which I am extrememly grateful-- I'm such a perfectionist that formatting everything would've taken me FOREVER), so I can't give you a link to everything I've been working on for the past week.

    However, if you're really curious to see something I created, I included the final version of my Online Learning Environment for my Instructional Technolgy class as one of my artifacts supporting the following standard: "Candidates have knowledge and understanding of a wide range of insructional practices, approaches, methods, and curriculum materials (including nonprint media and technological tools) to support writing instruction and the teaching of literature."

    I'd like to publicly acknowledge how awesome Gaines has been throughout this entire year. There were too many nights where he we go to bed while I was still working on the computer and he would get up and... I'd still be working on the computer. I imagine he's just happy now to say he has a wife again. For a while it seemed I'd disappeared off the face of the earth. Thanks, dear, for "holding up my arms" by little things like helping me battle the laundry monster or cleaning the kitchen. You rock!

    More like pre-ow!

    A timely new e-mail from homestarrunner.com coincides with the successful community Yard Sale we organized this weekend.

    Originally scheduled for Saturday, the crazy-craze lightning and thunderstorms that rolled through Atlanta that morning pushed it back to Sunday. Participating residents requested a morning start time, so I helped them set up the tables before going to church services. (Gaines, despite what the previous sentence may imply, was not skipping out on helping OR going to church. He goes to West Merritts super-early every week to practice the morning's worship songs.)

    Apparently, as was recounted to me afterward, the yard sale was so successful that the police had to come out and run off all the customers because there were too many cars parked along the road in front of our apartment complex. I'm *almost* sorry we missed it.

    Monday, May 02, 2005

    I Still Love Technology

    Technology has a knack for being both a blessing and a curse. A relevant example is our new iPod. On the one hand, it is a pretty sweet piece of electronic magic. Plus, it was free. But there is a downside: our current PC is running Windows 98, which will not support iTunes, and my computer hacking skills are not up to the task of configuring it for that OS. For the last couple of weeks, I've been weighing the benefits of upgrading to XP against building a brand new system. Well, last week, the Lord saw fit to grace us with an unexpected gift: Apartment Life, the ministry with which we work, decided to provide a sizeable monetary gift to current teams who have been operating for two or more years (in September, Allison and I will have been running the program at our complex for three years). I had been putting off any computer upgrades for budgetary reasons, but our current PC is almost five years old and has seen a great amount of wear and tear in those years. Needless to say, this gift provided the means to purchase a new system -- which arrived this weekend, and is now waiting to be assembled. God is good!

    (PS I'm looking to get a good external hard drive. Anyone have any recommendations, or any bad experiences with certain brands?)