Helen Keller Vs. The Aliens: How Two Very Different Films Tell A Similar Story

It’s a good idea to be diverse in our entertainment choices. People who reject a story based on its aesthetic, or its genre, or its age, run the risk of missing out on something brilliant. They may even be missing out on a learning opportunity.

Today’s post is about something delightful I learned while watching some movies recently. Sometimes, two things that on the surface would seem to be completely and unequivocally dissimilar can actually have a lot in common. It’s true of people, and it’s true of motion pictures, as well. See, I love old classics. I like compelling, well-acted, non-depressing biopics. I also like a good alien movie. These aren’t interests one would generally expect to collide. But that’s where the delight comes in.


Allow me to present Exhibit A. The Miracle Worker (1962) is a biographical snapshot of the early life of Helen Keller, and her relationship with her teacher Annie Sullivan. Anne Bancroft (as the former) and Patty Duke (as Helen) each took home well-deserved Academy Awards for their performances. My immediate impression upon the film’s conclusion was that these two actresses had delivered two of the best performances I’d even seen in my life.

It is a remarkably good film, almost exhausting to watch, but the labors of Annie to teach her pupil, and of Helen to grasp the lessons, is well worth the journey. When the light finally catches in The Miracle Worker’s final act, the result is pure and ecstatic joy. One wants almost to exhale in relief while blinking away tears simultaneously. We finally see the fruit of Annie’s arduous efforts, and Helen has been given a voice. She has discovered the power of language, as well as the ability to communicate it. Her life, we see, will never be the same again.

This is the best kind of ending, in that it is really a beginning.

(I was tempted to post the video clip of this whole beautiful scene, but no one deserves to see it without having first experienced all that leads up to it.)

Which brings us to Exhibit B. Arrival (2016) is an alien movie. The heart of the story, however, are not its extraterrestrial visitors, who have showed up on earth in twelve pod-like vessels at different and seemingly random locations. The heart of Arrival is Louise (played by Amy Adams), the expert linguist who has been recruited to attempt communication with them.

What follows is a visually arresting journey towards understanding with these alien beings (dubbed heptapods). Amid pressures to find out who the heptapods are, and whether their purpose on earth is for good or ill, Louise embraces the challenge of interpreting— and eventually absorbing— the heptapod language. To delve much deeper into the themes of the film would be impossible without spoiling its surprises for those who have yet to see it. Suffice to say, much centers on language, communication, and the ways we as mortal beings perceive what those things even are.

The light catches for Louise, as it did for Helen. And it kind of catches for the viewer, too.


I first viewed Arrival at the beginning of 2019, even offering a bite-sized review here at the blog. I knew then that it had been an exceptional film, but that it hadn’t quite sunk in. Confronted with everything the opposite of the stereotypical alien invasion flick, I was taken off guard. Instead of action and suspense, Arrival is all subtlety and patience. Where most movies of its genre appeal with special effects and high stakes, Arrival impresses with its strong narrative and thoughtfulness. Here, I knew, was a film that demands a repeat viewing.

As luck would have it, I picked Arrival up at the library for a second time just days after having experienced The Miracle Worker.

A long time ago, I was watching The Devil Wears Prada with my brother. Halfway through its run-time, he remarked, “This movie is exactly like Rookie of the Year”. It was an odd, though not inaccurate, observation. I laughed at it. And as I sat contemplating Arrival for the second time, I couldn’t help noticing… “Hey, this is just like The Miracle Worker!” Even with such obvious external differences, the similarities between the two movies were impossible to miss.

The revelation was stimulating. Unlike in my brother’s case way back when, the similarities here were not drawn from over-used Hollywood plot-lines. No, in the case of Arrival and The Miracle Worker, I found instead a shared reverence for patience and perseverance…. two fascinating examinations of language, and the way we understand it.

I leave you with these two snippets that reveal a lot about the journey without spoiling the destination. Helen Keller and the heptapods have a lot to teach us. Viewers who share my affinity for quality film-making and such rich themes will be as happy as I was to learn.

21 Screen-Free Activities For Wiser Living

A couple weeks back, I was inspired to write about the relation between wisdom and how we choose to spend our time. Wasted time rarely, if ever, makes us any wiser, or our lives any more vibrant. So today, I want to follow that post up with a list of actual practical ways we can avoid frittering away our hours and days.


Instead of going to Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., why not try any one (or two, or three, or six) of the following:

1. Reading a book. One with pages made out of paper. Visit your local library, and if you don’t have a card already, for pity’s sake, get one.

2. Bible study. Whether on your own, with a friend, or a group, digging into the Word is always a good way to spend your time.

3. Writing something. Writing anything! You don’t even have to be a writer. Start a journal, or send a surprise letter to an old friend.

4. Exercising. Go climb a mountain, or join a gym, or ride a bike. Find something you actually enjoy doing, so it doesn’t feel like a chore.

5. Taking a long walk (don’t forget to stop and smell the roses).

6. Taking a short walk (if time is of the essence).

7. Tidying up. Clean out a drawer that’s gotten junked up, a surface that always accumulates clutter, or even tackle an entire room that really needs it.

8. Popping on a record and dancing like nobody’s watching.

9. Listening to an audio-book. There are hundreds of classics available for free on Librivox.org! And this is one you can combine with other items on the list. Win-win.

10. Learning a productive new skill. Sewing! Knitting! Gardening! Cooking! Salsa dancing! Origami! Guitar! The possibilities are endless. It feels so good to have something to show for our time. Spend an hour on YouTube, and you find yourself wondering where it went. Spend an hour painting a watercolor, and you can always see exactly where it went.

11. Trying a new recipe. Or whipping up an old favorite!

12. If you have a day, take a day trip. There are probably all kinds of cool places to explore within easy driving distance of where you live. Especially if you live in Virginia, like I do. Find somewhere new, or visit a place you haven’t seen in years. Don’t forget to take lots a pictures.

13. Tackling a DIY or crafty project. Your Pinterest boards are probably full of them. So pick one and actually do it! Make that raised garden bed! Or recover those old living room cushions!

14. People watching. Find a bench in a public place. Sit there. Think deep thoughts about everyone you see.

15. Making a card or writing a letter. I know I mentioned letter-writing already, but it’s going down again. Everyone should try it.

16. Doing a crossword puzzle, or hand-written brain-teaser of your choice. Your brain will thank you later.

17. Memorizing a poem. According to Lemony Snicket, “Everyone should be able to do one card trick, tell two jokes, and recite three poems, in case they are ever trapped in an elevator.” So try learning a card trick, as well.

18. Watching a documentary. OK, so it involves a screen. But hopefully you’ll learn something, so I’m overlooking that on this one.

19. Finding junk to get rid of. Clean out your closets! Emancipate your cupboards! Purge your shelves! It feels amazing.

20. Rearranging the furniture. If you’ve already undertaken #7 and #19, this will be more fun.

21. Volunteering. It’s more blessed to give than receive, after all. Find a cause you care about, and give a little of your time towards furthering it.


The great thing about lists is that you can always add to them. So if you guys have any more suggestions, my ears are open!

Book Reviews for Summer 2019

In case anyone was wondering, the answer is yes. I am still alive. And in case no one was wondering… well, I’m still alive anyway. Summer is hardly the time for staying cooped up indoors and composing new blog posts, is it? But summer is pretty much over now. I am now at leisure to present my literary summation of the season. Enjoy.


Horseman (Crockett and Crane, Book 1) by Kyle Shultz

A fantastical alternate history with enough snark to keep me giggling throughout. Shultz throws together the components of literature, legend, the Wild West, and a shape-shifting centaur like a mad scientist playing with chemicals in his laboratory. The result is a wham-bang story, and a very satisfying one.

Side note: Maybe it’s because one of the last things I read was a screenplay right, but I really wanted this to be a movie. And now I’m just annoyed that it isn’t one. The film industry should be ashamed of itself for not jumping on the opportunity for certain cinematic gold.

Follow this magical link to learn more, or get a copy of Horseman.

King’s Warrior (The Minstrel’s Song, #1), by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

In the interest of full disclosure, King’s Warrior does not fall under my preferred variety of fantasy. It is a quintessential epic, verging in some instances on the cliche. It has the girl-warrior-wannabe, the boy with a great destiny who doesn’t believe he’s anything special, and the retired hero brought back into the action by a tragical inciting incident. The plot is not unpredictable.

And yet…

The author has an unmistakable gift for storytelling. Despite many familiar elements, I did not once roll my eyes, or utter a single “ugh”. I enjoyed the story, the characters, the relationships. You never know what caliber of writing you’re going to get in an indie title, but King’s Warrior definitely belongs in the upper tiers.

Though epics that take place outside of Middle Earth may never rank among my favorites, those who do crave that style will love King’s Warrior.

Oh, look! Another magical link for you to follow…

The Good Neighbor: The Life And Work Of Fred Rogers, by Maxwell King

A quick anecdote, on Mister Rogers’s personal habits of entertainment consumption:

“He’d only watch television once a week, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour […], because he liked to see Alfred Hitchcock come in and say hello. And then he’d turn it off.”

… I laughed.

As for the rest.

The writing style occasionally rubbed me the wrong way. For instance, I couldn’t quite determine whether Mister Rogers’s Christian faith was a tad askew, or if his biographer simply didn’t know how to address it (ie: Fred was a practicing Christian all his life, but it’s not like you think… he wasn’t one of THOSE people). Frankly, it might be a little of each.

Despite this, it would be just about impossible to read a book about one of history’s kindest, most selfless and caring public figures and not get something out of it. In the crush of noise and discord that seems to define our age, how refreshing to immerse oneself in quieter, simpler ideals. Most refreshing of all: history’s kindest, most selfless and caring public figure was the real deal. He really WAS as kind, selfless and caring as he appeared to be on television.

If only humanity could discover a will to learn, here is a man we could all be learning from.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

I am conflicted.

On one hand, this is a beautifully written rendering of a tragic (and true) love story. Every time I picked the book up, I found it hard to put down again. Lots of people seem to have felt the same way.

But, but, but.

On the other hand, I found myself growing increasingly uncomfortable as the story went on. Novelizations of real people and events are always going to be a tricky game. I wasn’t always sure where to separate fact from fiction here, and I don’t like that.

What really broke the deal, though, by the end, was how… shall we say… personal it got. The romantic details were so…. detailed. I don’t want to be arrogant by claiming to know the real-life subjects better than anyone else. But if this book isn’t making C.S. Lewis spin in his grave, then I think it’s safe to say nothing ever will.

My golly. It seemed like such an invasion of privacy. Even if every last one of these words and thoughts really happened, that doesn’t mean they needed to be written. I mean, it’s clean romance and everything, but it still felt like reading the intimate details in the relationship between your grandparents. So. So. Awkward.

Many have enjoyed this book a lot, as I said. It is not my intent to discourage others from reading and/or enjoying it. But I just could stop cringing.

Image result for out of time nadine brandesOut of Time Series, by Nadine Brandes

A well-crafted YA dystopian yarn. Having read and adored Brandes’s “Fawkes” last year, I was interested to see how her earlier work would compare.

The pacing in each installment of the series is rather odd. The plot meanders this way and that, and I found myself a little disoriented at times, unsure of where I was being taken, or why. By the end, you see it was all a part of the pilgrimage. I think the uncertainty is part of the point.

I might not quite be falling over myself in attempt to, omigosh, tell you how brilliant A Time To Die is, it’s clear that Nadine Brandes knows how to tell a story that sinks its claws in and won’t let go. What is more, she knows how to infuse her Christian faith into her work in a manner that is compelling and authentic. The inner conflicts that arise are perfectly relatable, even if they’re occurring in a fictional dystopian world.

I think Brandes is one of the better writers of speculative Christian fiction out there right now. I highly recommend her books, and I can’t wait to what she’ll do next.

The complete trilogy is currently available for 4.99 on Kindle. Kind of a steal, guys.

Surprised By Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis by Terry Lindvall

This is a pretty fat book for what would seem a comparatively slim subject. Towards the end, I began to think the material just a hair exhaustive. For the most part, however, it was delightful and not over done at all. Lindvall strikes the right balance between the light and the weighty. Just as Lewis himself was so adept at doing.

Admirers of Lewis (as well as GK Chesterton, who is given an almost equal share of attention) will certainly want to give Surprised By Laughter their consideration.

The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott

The Swan Kingdom had every promise of being a compelling story. I mean, it’s a Wild Swans retelling… how could it not? Unfortunately, the story suffers from a lack of proper development. The brother characters barely appear throughout the book. The love interest is not unlikable, but also lacked dimension. Other promising characters popped up here and there, only to disappear a chapter or so later.

The heroine, meanwhile, is not presented consistently at all, nor is her growth thoroughly explored. In chapter one, she is described as ugly. So ugly that her father laments he will never be able to find a husband for her (which is pretty extreme, given that this girl is a princess). By the end, she has apparently become beautiful enough to silence and awe an entire ballroom full of people upon her entrance. This might work (I really think it would work) if such a dramatic change was documented. Like, at all. But it is not. I could but scratch my head and emit a less than eloquent, “Huh?”

The Swan Kindgom is in no way offensive or poorly written. It’s just… doughy in the middle.

And now, for something completely different…

The US Army Survival Handbook

As entertaining as it is informative.

One section cautioned against attempting to capture a Komodo dragon, leaving me with questions.

Like, if I try to make friends with it instead, is that cool?

And, I mean… capture? Not kill, or debilitate, but CAPTURE? Is there anyone who would actually attempt this? Ever? Have a lot of army recruits watched “How To Train Your Dragon” one too many times, and let it go to their heads??? I need answers.

Image result for komodo dragon

Side note: I checked this book out of the library. On a page in the middle, someone wrote the letter “L”, and a phone number. Honestly, this book was every bit as mysterious as some of the Agatha Christie titles I plowed through earlier in the year.

Farewell To Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

A sad, sad story, but told without any apparent prejudice or bitterness.

Did you know that it was literally not legal for Asian immigrants to become US citizens until the 1950s? Because I did not, and that shocked me. Like, give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… just not the Chinese or Japanese ones. What the heck, America?

I can’t help considering the dark spots in American history, contrasting them with the whole Land of The Free, Home of the Brave imagery. It seems like there are two camps in the US these days. There are the die-hard patriotic types, who idolize our nation, and refuse to admit that it is anything but a perfect shining example of everything that is right and good. And there are those on the polar opposite end, who define America by its dubious track record of genocide, slavery, racism, and overall injustice.

Here I am in the middle. Isn’t it possible to mourn and regret the awful parts of American history, and still be grateful for the relative freedoms our laws afford? To recognize that, no, this is NOT a perfect nation, but to still be glad I live here?



The Erosion of Time & Knowledge

I have often wondered, in an age with more information at our fingertips than generations past could even have dreamed possible, why we all seem to be growing more and more ignorant.

Furthermore, it seems strange that with the ever-increasing abundance of time-saving technology that no one ever seems to have much time to spare.

Shouldn’t things be the other way around? What gives?

Reading through the Psalms the other day, an answer to these questions reached out and slapped me across the face:

“Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.”
-Ps. 91v12

The first thing to realize is that these disparities of eroding time and knowledge are not unrelated. The two are, in fact, closely intertwined.

The Psalm suggests that good use of time will lead to the blossoming of wisdom. It must follow that that too much time wasted will lay wisdom to waste, as well. One need not think too hard to come up with ideas on the squandering of time in the 21st century.

How much collective time does the populace spend on social media? How many hours do I spend, scrolling mindlessly through memes reposted to Facebook, or recipes on Pinterest? How many minutes swirl down the drain in the grips of my indecision over what to watch on Netflix? It’s scary, when you think about it.

There may be a place for social media and entertainment in our lives, of course. We all need to unwind every now and again. What I am beginning to see, though, is that we are elevating these things to a place far and away higher than they’re meant to occupy. Instead of unwinding, we’re the ones being wound tighter and tighter around the spools of frivolous distraction.

It is uncomfortable to admit my own guilt. I have, at intervals in the recent past, gone on fasts from Facebook and other time-killers. It’s amazing how much you don’t miss them. And yet somehow, in the end, they always manage to reel you back in.

It’s easy to say that we desire wisdom. Pursuing it actively, well… that’s not so simple, is it? It requires hard work, focus, discipline. I am not very good at those things. But the more I look around me, the more appealing wisdom appears in comparison with what I see.

I do not mean to indict others with this post. It isn’t exactly a stone-written commitment to strive for my own betterment, either. Resolutions like that don’t work. Not even when they’re made public.

I think what it really is might be a prayer. For the strength and courage to deny the easy in favor of the difficult. For the will to pursue what is good over what is worthless. And for Him who holds all time and knowledge in His hand to teach us to make the most of one, so that we may grow in the other. I ask for me, and for you, too.

Let this also be an open invitation for anyone and everyone to join me in the pondering, as well as the prayer.


Book Reviews for April & May 2019

One of these days, I’m going to get back around to writing something other than book (or movie) review posts.

For now, alas, this is the best I can do.

Here are my reads for the past two months!

april may


The Witness For The Prosecution and Other Stories by Agatha Christie

A few of these stories are on more of a three star level, but I’m bestowing four (out of five) upon the collection as a whole. The titular tale is totally worth it.
Side note, for what it’s worth: the 1957 movie version of Witness for the Prosecution is a smashing adaptation, and it’s available to watch for FREE on archive.org. Check it.

Related image

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

As tense and engrossing as one could wish for a classic mystery novel to be.
But… somehow… the resolution failed to really satisfy my expectations. It was a bit like a magic trick, where you feel let down once you hear it explained.

At least I don’t feel stupid for not having figured the whole thing out. Who could, in this one? Clever girl, that Agatha. Clever girl.

Think this should about do it for my Christie kick.

Love All by Dorothy L. Sayers

How weird to be reading two plays (Love All and The Man Born To Be King) by the same author at the same time that are so, so vastly different.

This was one of those light and snappy affairs. I want to call it worldly, too, but I don’t know if I can do that without sounding like a prude.

Anyway. Diverting enough, I suppose, but hardly Sayers’s finest work. Unlike TMBTBK, which I recommend with all my heart and soul.

Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

All the clarity and common sense I’ve come to expect from Yancey. Refreshing.

Related imageWinnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne

A treasury of Pooh books had a home on my childhood bookshelf, but I can’t remember having ever actually read any of them straight through. I am glad that, unlike most other kinds of mistakes, past oversights of this kind are easily corrected.

Christopher Robin, Pooh Bear, Piglet and all the rest make the sweetest, charmingest sort of literary friends. Stories like this are the equivalent of a cup of chamomile tea (or a pot of honey) for the soul. And if you’ve grown up already, don’t worry. It’s never too late for a visit to the Hundred Acre Wood.


Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell

What I wanted this book to be was a concise exposé of unethical brands and products, wrapped up with a practical suggested course of action for concerned consumers to follow.

Maybe it’s not the book’s fault, but this is not what it was. Shell deals more with the historical origins and economic results of “discount culture”, and exhaustively so. Much of this content was simply of no interest to me (though perhaps others may find it more stimulating).

I do feel challenged to quit looking at all the stuff I buy as disposable. We do this without thinking, but the reality is disturbing, once you begin to consider it. That being said, I could not relate to many of the extremes Shell describes. Who buys an article of clothing that falls apart after one wash and doesn’t care??? Who thinks nothing of furniture they purchase not lasting more than a year or two? Our culture is pretty bad, but I don’t know anyone THAT wasteful and careless.

Instead of feeling educated and empowered by having read this book, I am instead more frustrated than before. How does one become a responsible consumer without spending extravagant amounts of money? I’m still trying to figure that one out. ‘Til I do, I’ll probably go on suspecting that living off the land and buying next to nothing is the answer.

Finally, a self-defending side note: I own a model of bookcase from IKEA that the author mentioned by name. It doesn’t look like firewood. And after 5+ years of housing loads of heavy books, the shelves aren’t bowed in the middle or falling apart. Maybe I won’t be passing it on to my grandchildren, and maybe I’d make a different choice if I were investing in furniture now. But I also don’t think my bookshelves are complete garbage, thanks very much.

Sense & Sensibility: The Screenplay and Diaries by Emma Thompson

I’d never read a screenplay before. My goodness, what fun. Emma Thompson’s diaries were also vastly amusing, though a little salty (at least when one has settled in to a dignified, elegant, Jane Austen-y state of mind).

Even the foreword, from producer Lindsay Doran, was a treat. Also included as an extra goodie at the end is an acceptance speech written by Thompson for the Golden Globes. One has only to read (or watch) it to understand why this woman was the best and only choice to adapt Sense & Sensibility for the screen. Her grasp of Jane Austen’s humor and language is as near to perfection as any 21st century mortal can ever hope to reach.


Speaking of Jane Austen…

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey is not popularly reckoned to be one of Jane Austen’s better works. Held in comparison with her other novels, it isn’t difficult to understand why. There is more silliness and less depth of character. The heroine is almost an object of ridicule at times, and not everyone appreciates the narrator’s vicious lampooning of the Gothic novels that were so popular at that time.

Despite these particulars (and, indeed, in several instances because of them), Northanger Abbey has always been a favorite of mine. I’ve read it more times than any of Austen’s others, with the possible exception of Pride & Prejudice. It might not be what clever people call “better”, but it brings me more pleasure than Mansfield Park, or even Emma, ever has.

Characters like Mrs. Allen and Isabella Thorpe may be shallow, but Jane Austen’s penetration of their foibles is no less precise. Her acid wit is on full display. And (controversial opinion alert) Mr. Tilney is easily my favorite of all her gentleman creations. Say what you will in favor of Mr. Darcy. I’ll take Mr. Tilney, with his sense of humor and defenses of the English language, any day of the week.

I love the silliness. I love the satire. I love the portraits of human folly. I love to love the good characters, and hiss my disgust for the likes of Mr. Thorpe. I love the contrasts, the settings, the language. I love this book. And I don’t care if I’m supposed to be wrong.


Image result for river secrets shannon hale

River Secrets by Shannon Hale

A highly amusing sequel to Hale’s incomparable fairy-tale retelling The Goose Girl. I’ve read this one before, but I wanted to do so again for a bit of personal research. Contemplating a sequel of my own, I am seeking examples of how to succesfully convert a comical sidekick into a hero-in-his-own-right. (Any further suggestions are welcome).

The plot and conflict in River Secrets aren’t all that amazing (at least if you’re comparing it to its predecessor, which how can you not?) I find it to be a tremendous amount of fun all the same. The characters are fantastic, and Hale’s elegant narrative voice in combination with her zesty wit never fail to satisfy.

Movie Reviews: March & April 2019

I watched some more movies in the months of March and April.

Here’s what I thought about them…

MOVIE REVIEWS march april

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind (2019)

This was the first film I watched in March, and I wrote it down without writing a review as well. It is now the end of April, and I am sorry to say that The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind mustn’t have left any strong impressions, because I’ve forgotten 3/4 of it.

All the same, it is great to see a movie set in Africa that is really positive without being patronizing. If enough people watch this on Netflix, maybe we’ll be fortunate enough to see more such fare in the future. Hint hint.


Agatha And The Truth of Murder (2018)

I like the premise of inventing a story about the mysterious 11-day disappearance of Agatha Christie. The execution here, unfortunately, was uninspired. The Doctor Who version was much superior.


Risen (2016)

I watched this one a year or so ago. Every time I thought of it afterward, I couldn’t quite decide what I thought. Could it possibly be that the movie was… good? I was confused.

“Risen” could be accurately categorized as a “faith-film”. It tells the story (completely imagined, but not— as far as I can tell— at odds with scripture) of a Roman Tribune charged with finding the missing body of Jesus after his crucifixion.

So I watched it again, and I’m still confused. Faith films aren’t supposed to be good. But if Risen isn’t quite good, well… it comes closer than most of the others. Admittedly, the bar is set pretty low in the Christian genre. But I think this might be a film that is actually worth watching. Go forth and decide for yourselves.


And if faith-films aren’t your thing, maybe you still want to watch it just to see William Shakespeare on screen with Draco Malfoy…

Arrival (2016)

Not your typical alien invasion flick.

Don’t expect thrills or action. The conflict is subtle and human, with a thought-provoking focus on language, communication, time, and perception.

I don’t know how much I understood of Arrival, but it is an exceptional viewing experience. I may even re-watch it sometime in the future.


Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Absolute ugliest opening title sequence I have ever beheld:



But the cast (including but not limited to: Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, and Vanessa Redgrave) is a dream, and the adaptation pretty right on. Two thumbs up for one of the better views on this list.


Salmon Fishing In The Yemen (2011)

Strange to say, I’d have liked it better if there’d been more salmon fishing and less romantic melodrama.


The Third Man (1949)

Famous for its disconcertingly jaunty score and black-and-white cinematography, as it should be. It feels wrong to pooh-pooh a classic film, but apart from those elements, it really didn’t do it for me. The suspense seemed to build forever, without going anywhere (until the last minute, with that smashing chase scene in the sewers).


I can say I’ve seen it now, I guess. But no intentions of revisiting this one in the future.

Goodbye, Christopher Robin (2017)

Do you have warm, nostalgic feelings about Winnie The Pooh? Then I cannot stress how very much you should never, ever, ever watch this film. It’s like someone decided, Hey! Christopher Robin’s childhood was garbage, let’s ruin everyone else’s, too!

True, it looks good. The aesthetics are lovely. And sure, there may be the tiniest crack of redemptive light shining through at the end. But my goodness. Our willy-nilly-silly old bear has some depressing origins.


Don’t be fooled by the pretty lighting! Steer clear.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)


*Shakes head*

I hope that the first thing all those loose dinosaurs do in the next movie is go to Hollywood and eat all the screenwriters and producers responsible for travesties like this.


Side note: Don’t you love how the Jurassic World dinosaurs’ number one priority in all of life is to hunt down certain people, no matter what else is going on, or where they all are? And isn’t it great how they seem hellbent on eating said people until the very last second, when they will suddenly stop, giving the person a chance to be properly terrorized (and— if they’re important enough— a chance to escape)? I swear, this is like the dinosaur version of monologuing.

The Thin Man (1934)

I’ve always heard people remark on this movie with great affection, and now I know why. Despite their apparent alcoholism, Nick and Nora (Powell and Loy) are a dynamite duo.

Hollywood people should really go back and watch some of their own old pictures sometime. Maybe they’d actually strike on something inspirational (and I don’t mean in a “Say! Let’s do a remake!” way).

Looking forward to digging up some of the sequels!


Marnie (1964)

Pros: Typical Hitchcockian suspensefulness, which kept me uneasy and invested in the plot. Vintage Sean Connery.

Cons: Tippi Hedren’s hair. The score somehow made me feel sick and dizzy (which maybe it was trying to do, but still). I expected some sort of big twist at the end, which didn’t really happen. Probably ahead of its time (not to mention on the scandalous side) in 1964, but kind of dated for 2019. Possibly triggering for people who have experienced childhood trauma and abuse.

A film that Hitchcock fans will certainly want to see. Everyone else, feel free to move along.



Book Reviews for March 2019

“March came in that winter like the meekest and mildest of lambs, bringing days that were crisp and golden and tingling, each followed by a frosty pink twilight which gradually lost itself in an elfland of moonshine.”

-L.M. Montgomery

There’s a quote for March, now here’s a joke:

Q. Why is everyone so tired on April 1?

A. Because they’ve just finished a long, 31 day March

The disparity between these two snippets mirrors the extremes of the month itself. You see?

There are some pretty big disparities between the different books I’ve read in March, too. Let’s get to the reviews.

Spring Season Sale

A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor

I’d read this classic short story on multiple occasions before. At the beginning of this month, however, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a recording of the author herself reading it aloud to an audience at Vanderbilt University.

I had never realized before quite how funny it is. O’Connor’s glorious accent and artless intonation added texture to a story that wasn’t lacking it to begin with.

An utter treat.

A Thousand Miles To Freedom: My Escape From North Korea by Eunsun Kim

This is on the lighter side of the North Korean memoir spectrum (if there is such a thing). Having read a few of these already, I didn’t learn a whole lot that was new to me. Kim’s story- as anyone’s- is of course unique and worthwhile. Her story presented fewer harsh details and descriptions than, say, Escape From Camp 14, or A River In Darkness.

I would recommend this book as a good starting place for those who haven’t read much about North Korea already, and/or those who don’t think they can stomach the more horrifyingly exhaustive stuff.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Escapism of the sweetest, most satisfying sort.

Do kids these days still dream of running away and living in the woods? Man, I hope so.

Trigger warning to those who share my sensitive affection for turtles: The main character eats turtles and uses their shells for dishes, and it will make your tummy squirm.

913ko5iofxlOn Reading Well: Finding The Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior

Books about books are sure to bring a cozy satisfaction to any confirmed bibliophile. “On Reading Well” is no exception.

The author’s tone does, at times, tilt to the the scholarly side. I admit to glazing over at certain passages. On the whole, however, Prior has penned a lovely little book, full of valuable insights into Christian virtue through various works of literature.

I don’t read many books published within the last year or two. Odd as it might be, I found the occasional commentary on our present culture and current events as worthwhile as anything. Then again, perhaps that’s just my pride speaking. Excuse me while I go re-read that chapter on humility and the stories of Flannery O’Connor…
Gay Girl, Good God: The Story Of Who I Was And Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry

“To tell you about what God has done for my soul is to invite you into my worship.”

The title of this book might cause offense to the conclusion-jumping Christian. The premise, on the other hand, will probably offend anyone who holds the opposite worldview. Too bad, on both counts.

Jackie Hill Perry writes her story in a voice that is down to earth and rhapsodic all at once. Her strength and wisdom struck me as beyond her years. The differences between her life and mine are significant, but we share a Savior, and that’s all that really matters. I was very encouraged by her passion and conviction.

This is not a story of guilt and shame (or “praying the gay away”, as some seem fond of saying). Wielders of the rainbow-flag have responded to Jackie in anger, or in pity. But it is really beyond me that anyone could hear/read Jackie’s words and feel sorry for her. She is full of joy and confidence. If that makes you angry, ok. But pity? This woman has no need of it.

Though on the surface, “Gay Girl, Good God” is about the rejection of same-sex attraction in favor of the love and grace and holiness of God, it is really much more than that. Jackie’s is a story of surrendering all, and embracing the truest of true identities. Every Believer has something to learn and benefit from how God has worked in her life.

Whether we’re gay or straight, rich or poor, black or white, we are all sinners. We all have idols, even if we do not recognize them as such. We all hang on to things it would be better we let go of. We all hesitate to offer up every last inch of our lives to God. Jackie’s life is such a beautiful picture of what it looks like to give it all up for Him. It demonstrates how nothing on this earth is better than the One who made it (and us) in the first place. To embrace this as truth is to know ultimate joy, fulfillment and freedom.

Thank you, Jackie, for inviting us into your worship. I, for one, feel like singing.

On top of having written this book, Jackie is a tremendous speaker and poet. I highly recommend checking out some of her videos on YouTube if any of this piques your interest!

The Girl With Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee

My tenth DPRK book. Now I can write some kind of serious North Korean top-ten list post. Stay tuned.

This one was really good. Heavier than A Thousand Miles To Freedom, but not as gut-wrenching as A River In Darkness. The style is almost closer to that of a novel than a typical memoir. There are lots of hints and hooks that make the book incredibly difficult to put down.

One thing I’ve learned from my other reading, and that stood out in The Girl With Seven Names, is how sometimes getting out of North Korea is actually the easy part. Lee’s defection could be accurately described as accidental; a rebellious whim. Her subsequent journey to citizenship in South Korea, and her family’s eventual struggle to join her there, were what made this story such a harrowing one.

It is important to note that North Korea is not the only nation with problems. Defectors are anything but safe, even when they make it to China. Many, many of the girls and women who manage to escape do so not knowing that they’re being trafficked as ready-order brides or sex workers. Escape routes to the South through Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, or Thailand are fraught with more dangers and red-tape. Lee’s mother and brother, for instance, spent months languishing in a Lao prison before her unrelenting advocacy, a lot of bribe money, and a miracle or two finally allowed them to continue their journey to freedom. Though they were refugees seeking asylum, they’d still entered the country illegally. People who do this are “criminals”, or didn’t you know?

Things don’t necessarily get better in South Korea, either. Defectors from the North face endless challenges and discrimination, even in this new “civilized” society. Some even choose to go back, knowing that death in a labor camp (if not immediate execution) may well await them there.

It’s kind of a mess. And (in case this much wasn’t obvious) it quite riles me up.
Pray for the people of North Korea, guys. Pray for those who are still living there, and those who are not. Both groups are facing things that you and I can’t even imagine.

y648Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Sometimes, after binging on scholarly literary criticism, deep spiritual issues, and unthinkable human rights violations, you just need something that’s… the complete opposite of all those things.

Agatha Christie fit the bill.

And Murder on the Orient Express was the perfect holiday; a thoroughly compelling mystery classic.

Of course, it is difficult for a book’s twistier elements to keep fresh over the course of 85 years. Knowing “whodunit” beforehand took away a lot of the fun, but I did find plent of enjoyment in the read notwithstanding.

Book Reviews for February 2019

“Groundhog found fog.
New snows and blue toes.
Fine and dandy for Valentine candy.
Snow spittin’; if you’re not mitten-smitten, you’ll be frostbitten!
By jing-y feels spring-y.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac

It isn’t quite feeling spring-y, yet. But February is mercifully behind us, so perhaps there is hope.

Here are my book reviews for the month, while we’re all waiting for warmer weather and the appearance of sweet new green things.


My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne DuMaurier

I think I started with the best of DuMaurier when I read Rebecca and The Birds (and I guess Hitchcock thought so, too).

My Cousin Rachel kept me interested, but ultimately left me disappointed.

Ambiguity just ain’t my thing.

Shadows of Uprising by Tamara Shoemaker

An eminently satisfying second installment to Shoemaker’s Guardian of the Vale trilogy. Shadows of Uprising packs all the suspense, drama, and romance one could desire in a work of YA fantasy/sci-fi.

I so want to live in this world and hang around with Alayne Worth. Partially because it would be super sweet to have a friend who can control the elements. And partially because I need to make her understand what a creeper this guy Kyle is. I also need to give him a good solid smack in the face, followed by a lecture about the true nature of love. (Obvs I’m still on team Daymon.)

Get your copy here.

Guardian of the Vale by Tamara Shoemaker

Fantasy and sci-fi are funny animals. We read these genres because we want to escape into fantastic places and scenarios that the real world doesn’t afford. But us readers also require a healthy dose of reality in our fantastic fiction, or we won’t relate to it.

Shoemaker navigates this contradictory tightrope without faltering. She creates a fascinating world and large-scale conflicts, while still infusing her characters with qualities and inner struggles that we can all understand.

In Guardian of the Vale, she gives readers a slam-dunk finish to a highly entertaining trilogy. Be warned, though… The story-telling is addictive. I read almost the whole thing in a single day.

Link. You know you want it!

Spinning Starlight by RC Lewis

An intriguing premise (sci-fi fairy tale retelling) and such a pretty cover, but the story really didn’t deliver.

I could be mistaken, but it also seemed to me that there were anti-religious undertones, which didn’t sit well, either.

So apparently it is not only unsafe to judge a book by its cover, but by the description of its plot, too.



I’m still on the lookout for worthy adaptations of The Wild Swans.

A River In Darkness: One Man’s Escape From North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

North Korean defector memoirs are not in short supply these days, but I find that no matter how many I read, each has a unique perspective to offer. Such is certainly the case in Masaji Ishikawa’s tragic account. Ishikawa was born in Japan, to a Japanese mother and a Korean father. His family was forcefully persuaded to rehome to the DPRK when he was a boy in the 1960’s. And so unlike the average citizen, Ishikawa had something else with which to compare life in North Korea. He recognized from day one that he was in hell on earth.

The more I learn about this country, the more compassion I feel for the people who suffer under its stifling dictatorship. There’s a difference between compassion and pity, which is why I wish to clarify that I do not pity North Koreans. They have no need of such. They’re probably the strongest, most resourceful and resilient people on the planet. My heart simply breaks for them because, unlike most of the rest of us, they are not free to use the wonderful gifts that they’ve been given.

Ishikawa’s narrative is not a happy one. He spares no detail of his family’s desperate struggle to survive as they faced with tragedy upon tragedy, discrimination, poverty, homelessness, starvation. Do not read this expecting a happy ending, or an ultimate resolution. Ishikawa escaped, but the rest of North Korea is still enslaved, including the scattered remnants his own family.

As he concludes his story, Ishikawa speaks of his bitterness. Who could blame him? He has survived unimaginable horrors. Now he is alone. He is a man without a country, who cannot even tell whether his children are dead or alive. Few, if any, would be anything but angry and bitter in his shoes.

But Ishikawa’s closing lines made me think. He says:

“People talk about God. Although I can’t see him myself, I still pray for a happy ending.”

No judgment here. And I pray right along with Ishikawa. But what struck me was that the sense of injustice itself points to God. Without a kind and loving Creator, nothing in this man’s story would strike such discordant notes. Without God the suffering of innocents is not wrong. There is no right or wrong, just strong and weak. The young, sick, and elderly who starve to death are nothing more than meaningless victims of an evolutionary hierarchy.

I rebel against such thinking. I believe that the things Ishikawa has endured are wrong. That is why traces of light and hope shine through to me, even in the darkest of stories.



Movie Reviews: January & February 2019

Years ago I used to keep track of all the movies I watched and scribble down little reviews of them in a journal. At the beginning of 2019, with little forethought, I began to do so again (though in a Wordpad document this time).

Since after two months I’ve accumulated a nice little pile of reviews, I thought I might as well share them with the world. Most people have probably seen these movies already, given that I rarely treat myself to new releases (why pay for Redbox when you can just wait a little longer, and get the same thing for free at the library?). Here they be, all the same.

Please note: I don’t expect the majority to agree with my assessments. I tend to dislike popular films, which means I have a lot of unpopular opinions. If you really liked one of these movies that I didn’t, I’d love to hear your more positive takes!


The Big Sick (released 2017)

Interestingly compartmentalized. I think I’d like it better as a stage play.

OK enough, but not my style.

This Beautiful Fantastic (2016)

A quirky, compulsive young woman (Jessica Findlay Brown, known by most as Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey) must turn her disastrous backyard into a proper garden after clashing with her cantankerous old neighbor (Tom Wilkinson).

The story follows a similar course to most others that involve a cantankerous older person and a fresh-faced youth. Throw in a charmingly weird love-interest (Jeremy Irvine, who is too good looking for the role, as is so often the case) along with a helpful single dad (Andrew Scott, who is impossible not to like, even when you can’t not think of him as Sherlock Holmes’s evil arch-nemesis), and you’ve got yourself about the kind of movie you’d expect from such a combination.

It tries a little too hard to be cute, in my opinion. But it is still cute. Nothing to write home about, really, but clean and decent enough entertainment for a rainy winter evening.


A Quiet Place (2018)

I like to sum A Quiet Place up by saying it’s the greatest movie about a Christian home-school family* that I have ever seen. And that is not inaccurate.

Of course, it’s also a horror film.

Films have to work on multiple levels to be at their best, you know.

A Quiet Place works on all the levels. I avoid horror 98% of the time, but I loved this one. It is full of suspense and gasp-y moments. It is also a pretty touching family drama.
Creative story telling is scandalously rare in movies, especially these days. A Quiet Place owns the medium. It’s an exceptional film, and easily my favorite of the year, so far.


*Discussion topic for all current and former home-school people: Did this movie family home-school before the monster invasion, or is it something they reverted to out of necessity? Please let me know your theories.

Black Panther (2018)

A culturally significant work. Take that away, thought, and it’s really just another super-hero movie. The story-telling did not excite me, and the visual flash (as in all such modern stuff) made my eyes hurt. By far the worst part pf Black Panther, though, was hearing an American accent coming out of Martin Freeman’s beautiful British mouth. The sound made me feel physically ill.

I liked the music and costumes. I’m glad Hollywood occasionally acknowledges the diversity of the human race*, and that people watch and enjoy such productions.

Personally, I did not enjoy it that much. But it also didn’t make me want to growl quite as much as the average superhero flick. So there’s that.


*Please note that I am not patting Hollywood on the back for making this movie, as they seem to be doing for themselves. This is the 21st century. At this point, it’s kind of sad that a blockbuster with a predominantly black cast is treated as something extraordinary.

Baby Driver (2017)

Here’s something I’ve never said before: Wasn’t crazy about this movie, but it was worth it for the action scenes.

The car chases are nothing short of exquisite. The precision in certain sequences make them feel more like choreographed dance routines than movie chases. And the soundtrack is basically the central nervous system of the whole film. Pretty sweet.

Unfortunately, the violence went a little too yuck for my tastes at the end. I guess it’s not an Edgar Wright movie if someone doesn’t end up getting impaled.



The Incredibles 2 (2018)

A few inventive elements, and creative action sequences that are better than any other superhero movie you’ll see. I was, nevertheless, underwhelmed. Pixar can do a lot better.

My Cousin Rachel (2017)

A surprisingly faithful adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier’s novel, though rather truncated. At just 80-ish minutes long, it could have taken its time more. The Cornwall scenery is lovely (if under-used), and Rachel Weisz is pitch-perfect as the title character. Sam Claflin struck me as plain dreadful playing opposite her… though I suppose the way his character was written didn’t give him much to work with.

Overall, it was close to being good. And somehow that made it even more disappointing than if it had just been bad.


Hidden Figures (2016)

A good story about some amazing women.

After brushing up on the history a little, I’m a little uncomfortable with certain inaccuracies. Even if I understand they’re made to hype up the drama factor, it just doesn’t seem like history should have to be altered to be entertaining.


Eighth Grade (2018)

Too real. Way too real.

Wonder Woman (2017)

For someone who really doesn’t care for superhero movies, I seem to have watched a lot of them in the past two months.

Wonder Woman is more satisfying than many (perhaps even most) others, but still relies too heavily on special effects. The plot is pretty predictable, too.

What I did appreciate was the quality of compassion present in the title heroine. Nothing puts me off quite like a “strong woman” character whose strength seems to be defined solely by physical prowess and mental toughness. It was refreshing to see a character whose tender heart was part of her strength, too (even if she was still a hardcore, butt-kicking warrior-type, which Wonder Woman obviously is). Gal Gadot played the role really well.


Also, just a side observation: Is there a woman in all of history who has aged better than Robin Wright? Goodness gracious, she look amazing.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

I’m behind the times on most of these movies, but let’s end with an exception. After waiting five years for the release of the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy’s final installment, I took the liberty of seeing it on its opening weekend.

The burning question, of course: Was it worth the wait?

For a lot of fans, it probably is. The Hidden World boasts all the sweeping emotional highs and lows we’ve come to expect from these films. Its visuals are absolutely stunning. There were times when I felt (no, knew) that I was watching art in motion.

But, alas. I did not leave the theater with that feeling of closure and satisfaction that I’d ultimately hoped for.

The plot and characters in Hidden World did not feel complete and authentic to me. The jokes more than bordered on annoying at times. Whatever happened to the charming snark of the first movie? These things were not to my taste, obviously, but I could live with them. What drove the penultimate nail into the coffin of my disappointment was the ending.

Without trespassing into the spoiler realm, let’s just say that the film is trying to have its cake and eat it, too. The aim is poignancy that doesn’t leave the audience depressed. But it didn’t work for me. It felt too much like cheating. Good stories don’t cheat.

The second and third movies of HTTYD are not entirely unworthy endeavors. And yet when all is said and done, I’m not sure I don’t prefer to look at the first perfect installment as if it were a stand-alone film.

See Hidden World, if you will. It’s not bad. It simply wasn’t what this viewer wanted it to be.


Sex Trafficking, The Super Bowl, & You

The title of today’s post may be a little misleading. If I’d tried for something more accurate, it would have looked like this:

An issue I care about, a sporting event I don’t, and practical ways we can all pray about it.

But that isn’t quite as catchy, is it?

Titles aren’t the important thing, though. The important thing is that you’re here (hi), and I’m here, so let’s get to the matter at hand.


The spike in buying and selling of victimized women and girls for sex during the Super Bowl is a tragedy that has been well publicized over the past several years. Most people are, I assume, aware of this. If you weren’t before, I guess are now. Look into it.

Of course, it’s not just during the Super Bowl, or other heavily attended events. This happens every day, in every American state, and all over the world. If you’re a victim of the trade, Super Bowl weekend probably isn’t any more hellish than any other in the calendar year.

Since I don’t give two hoots about football games, though, this seems an apt time to think and write about an associated topic close to my heart. And since the Super Bowl does bring a large number of both perpetrators and victims into a relatively concentrated area, there are a host of 21st-century abolitionists and law enforcement officers descending there, as well.

According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (and various other sources), forty individuals had already been arrested on trafficking charges as of Friday. Four victims (two adults and two minors) have been rescued. At last year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis, 94 arrests were made.

Praise God, the forces of light are out there combating this darkness.

It is easy to feel helpless, sitting in our safe and comfortable homes while this crazy good and evil stuff is transpiring in Atlanta (and elsewhere around the globe). But I was very encouraged by a blog posted by the ministry Exodus Cry earlier this week. Their organization has outreach teams on the ground at the Super Bowl, and offered up a very helpful and practical list of ways we can all be praying over this weekend.

I wanted to share that list with my own readers today. It is, in fact, my very reason for writing.

Credit and gratitude to Exodus Cry for this, and all the other wonderful work they are doing.

* * *

Pray with us for the transformation of hearts during the Super Bowl, for the success of SafeZone Atlanta, and for the long term eradication of sex trafficking in the city. Pray:

That the walls of exploitation and abuse begin to crumble in Atlanta and across America as abolitionists from across the country gather in prayer and intervention

That those attending training and outreaches in Atlanta would encounter Jesus’ heart for those enslaved in the sex industry and begin abolition work for the exploited in their own cities

That law enforcement would catch sex buyers, traffickers, and pimps and offer assistance to the sexually exploited

That men tempted to purchase sex during the Super Bowl would be empowered to choose a different way and quit exploiting women

That healing communities would rise up across Atlanta and walk with survivors on their journey into healing and restoration

That the sound of survivors and abolitionists calling for stories to be heard would drive reform in our culture concerning entitlement, objectification, and exploitation of women’s sexuality

That the people of Atlanta would rise up to fight for the human rights of the prostituted like they fought for the civil rights of African Americans a little over 50 years ago

That trafficked girls would be freed and healed

And that the face of Atlanta would shift once again as sex trafficking, like segregation, becomes a part of history