Monday, September 28, 2009

A Different Take On 'I Read the Book'

Have you ever been talking to friends about the blockbuster hitting the screens the coming weekend or discussing a recent Netflix pick and have someone say, “Well, I read the book” or “The book was so much better.” Fair or not, I often detect a snobbish air to the phrase, as if the person really said, “You may think you know the story, but I immersed myself in the tale page after page, and you really haven’t experienced it.
Well, I don’t care if you consider me an intellectual snob, but there is a movie based on a book coming out. By the time you read this, it’s been released, but as I’m writing, it hasn’t been yet. And yes, I’ve read the book.
It’s called “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” (written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett). I used to read it to my kids all the time. You may have read it yourself. It’s the story of the town called Chewandswallow where the weather was quite unusual. When the sky opened in a storm, water didn’t come down in different forms, food came down in different forms.
The people of the town were never without their knives and forks because their food would come out of the skies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The morning might start with a drizzle of orange juice and bagels followed by sandwiches with apple slices, and the evening might bring, yes, the meatballs of the title along with spaghetti noodles.
Children love the book, as do the adults who read it to them. It’s a wonderful fantasy to think of food being so accessible and plentiful. Who but the most weight- conscious among as wouldn’t like a marshmallow snowstorm?
Why doesn’t God work the world this way?
An amazing thing is, He has done things very much like this at times.
If you read Exodus 16 about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, you’ll see that God provided food in an amazing way. When the dew dried in the morning, the people found manna, a kind of bread, on the ground. And in the evening, quail would gather for easy capture and cooking.
So why doesn’t God do this all the time? The story of the Israelites gives a clue: they soon begin to complain about their free lunch (or breakfast & dinner more properly). We often don’t appreciate what is given to us.
Before work was placed under a curse in Genesis 3, Adam was to work in the garden and care for the plants and gather his fruit.
In First Thessalonians we are told to make it our ambition to lead a quiet life and work with our hands (4:11) and respect those who work hard (5:12). Yes, the Lord’s prayer encourages us to pray for our daily bread, but that doesn’t mean we sit on our hands and wait for God to bake it.
As it turns out, even in the city of Chewandswallow, the storms of food get to be too much, and the people must build boats of stale bread to sail to a new land where people work for their food.
Yes, we begin life without working too much for our food, just sucking the milk in. And you may well have someone cooking for you now. But God always intended for the labor to be part of the joy in eating.
We partner with God to make His blessing come to earth. Working with Him shouldn’t make us less thankful, but more so.
(The movie “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” is rated PG for language that was not in the book, and it didn’t have the nutty scientist or monkey I saw in the trailer. But I’m never one to complain about adding monkeys.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I was going to write a full review of "Becket" with Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole but it just didn't flow. But I must say, it is worth seeing. If just for the scene where Burton as Becket gives away all his material goods to the poor and says it's like a holiday. He wishes he had something that he could give away that would feel like a sacrifice, but it's all joy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Honor of 9 opening on 9/9/9

The feature film '9' opens today which is nominated on an Oscar nominated animated short subject. I reviewed it, along with the other nominated shorts that year back in 2006.

Hidden Art
By Dean Anderson
The day before the Academy Awards this year, I decided to see all the movies nominated for Best Picture in one day.
Admittedly, it probably would have been a bit more of a challenge if I’d tried to see all the films nominated for best feature film… I saw the films nominated for Best Animated Short Picture, and the challenge, was not so much. The Rialto Theater had them all playing together on one program with a bonus short.
Now let me make it clear that Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry (former Oscar winners) were nowhere to be seen. In fact, there was a warning that these films were for mature audiences only. In retrospect, I found the warning odd, since there was not any extremely offensive material. But many still think of animation as being just for kids, and the theater’s management must have wanted to avoid filling the theater with kids who would be in danger of being bored and perplexed. (Though Jasper Morello did have some violent images and The Moon and the Son has, what they call, language.)
The first short, The Fan and the Flower, was not nominated for an Oscar, but was animated by Bill Plympton, a big name in modern animation (What? You’ve never heard of him?). It tells the story of the love between a potted plant and a ceiling fan. Now that might sound bizarre, but… No, it’s bizarre. But also quite touching. And a wonderful tale of sacrifice.
The Mysterious Geographic Exploration of Jasper Morello, animated by Anthony Lucas, is an adventure story that uses Jules Verne imagery of flying ships in a world of the clouds and morphs into a horror story that rips off Alien. It went on too long, and just kind of ends, but its look is unique and rather beautiful.
I can’t fairly judge the short, Badgered, (by Sharon Colman) because I don’t think the theater had a good print. Many times it was hard to see the picture on the screen. It features a badger (no surprise) that just wants to nap, but is disturbed first by two crows and eventually a nuclear missile silo. It was cute, but no great shakes.
9 is a very strange apocalyptic tale of a burlap rag doll that battles a mutated cat skeleton. Yes, I know you’re saying I’ve seen that story a million times, but it is well done. And the rights to this work by Shane Acker have been purchased by Tim Burton (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edward Scissorhands) to make it into a feature film.
Many of you will soon see the nominee, One Man Band, because it was created by Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews of Pixar, and because it will be featured this summer with the Pixar/Disney releases Cars. It was certainly had the best production values of any of the shorts -- it looked fantastic, with detailed backgrounds and winning characterization. It is the story of two competing one man bands that try to win the heart (and coin) of the one little girl that comprised their audience. It is very funny and has a nice message about pride and greed.
But I didn’t think it was the best film. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences favored the same short I did, The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation by John Canemaker and Peggy Stern. If you think of animation solely in the terms of Disney fairy tales and cats chasing mice, this is far from that. Canemaker uses not only animation, but also home movies and photos to have an imagined conversation with his now dead father. The son uses the film to have a conversation with departed father that is equal parts reconciliation and revenge.
The film wrestles with the issue of the desire for parental approval, even after we come to see the faults of our parents. It is a painful story; the father was abusive and even had mob ties. But the father also had some redeeming qualities that the son learns about belatedly. It maybe a better film than any of the films nominated for best feature film.
And yet most people won’t see it. But after receiving its Oscar, more people will see The Moon and the Son: an Imagined Conversation than The Fan and the Flower -- a very nice little film. It makes me think of all the little films that didn’t make the cut for Academy Award nominees, so even fewer people will see them. Let alone pay to see them.
Which made me think of all the stories written in notebooks -- paintings in attics--songs only whistled -- that will be known only by their creators. Come to think of it, how many people get to see the wood work of Bill Bean? (Not enough, I tell you.)
But if the only reason art was created was to make money and win awards, most art would be a failed enterprise. (After all, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, and Joseph Conrad were all rejected by the Nobel Committee of Literature.)
But if art is made in the reflection of the Creator, well that’s a different matter altogether. After all, many come and applaud His Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. But think of all the tiny wild flowers and spider webs that He is also responsible for that will never be seen be human eyes.
So if God has given you creative gifts, whether in animation or writing or cooking, practice them with joy. God will reward you, and He is always happy to hear your acceptance speech.