Yearly Archives: 2010

Movie: True Grit (2010)

Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Daniels) and Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) in the 2010 version of "True Grit."

Pam and I saw “True Grit” this afternoon. I love westerns, and always try to see them on the big screen. That’s the only way to do a western justice.

The 1969 John Wayne version, of course, is a classic. He won “Best Actor” for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn. When I heard that Jeff Bridges was playing that role in the 2010 remake, I thought, “What?!?” It just didn’t strike me right. But let me tell you: Bridges was superb! It was a very, very different Rooster, but an incredible performance. Or so I thought.

The two versions of Mattie Ross: Hailee Steinfeld (left) and Kim Darby.

But the real star was Hailee Steinfeld, playing the Mattie Ross role. Kim Darby played that role as a young adult woman, or at least that’s how I remember it. In the 2010 remake, as in the book, Mattie Ross is a 14-year-old girl. And whereas Kim Darby’s Mattie was cute, Hailee’s version is plain.

The movie begins by focusing the first 15 minutes or so on Mattie Ross, cementing in our minds that the movie is about her, not about Rooster Cogburn. In those early scenes, I developed a real fondness for the Mattie Ross character, who is bright, spunky, fearless, and mature beyond her years.

Jeff Daniels as a very different Rooster Cogburn.

Glenn Campbell played the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf in the original. It wasn’t a standout performance, but a good one. Likewise for Matt Damon’s work in the remake. Nothing special about it.

Robert Duvall played Ned Pepper in 1969. Barry Pepper, best known as the sniper in “Saving Private Ryan,” played him in the remake. You could hardly see Pepper in the character. He gave a different take on the classic line, “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man”–same words, but different delivery. I think I like the way Duvall did it better, but both were good.

Both versions played the shootout scene almost exactly the same way.

The remake, from what I understand, is much more faithful to the book, especially in  revolving around Mattie Ross. Much dialogue is taken verbatim from the book. That’s pretty obvious, because the wording and phrasing is by no means contemporary, as was the dialogue in the 1969 version. The dialogue is very foreign to the way we talk today.

The story is roughly the same. You see Mattie Ross recruiting Rooster to pursue the man who killed her father. The scene at the cabin by the river is very similar (yet different). There’s the open-plain charge by Rooster against Ned Pepper’s gang–Rooster taking the reigns in his teeth and firing with both pistols, with similar results. There’s Mattie’s fall into the snakepit, and the mad dash to get her treated. So many similarities.

And yet, there are scenes that don’t appear in the original, and new takes. They travel through snow, for instance. And the epilogue is new.

I really liked this movie. I knew I would, but it’s different than what I expected. Especially considering that the Coen Brothers made the movie. These are the guys who made Raising Arizona, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men, and other movies with serious quirks. But here, with True Grit, they played it straight. And that was the right choice.

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Book: “The Two Bear Mambo,” by Joe Lansdale

“The Two Bear Mambo” (1995) is the third “Hap and Leonard” book by Joe Lansdale, all of which are now published under the Black Lizard imprint. I previously described them as a poor-man’s Spenser and Hawk. I still think that’s fairly accurate.

The books are told first-person by Hap Collins, a white guy. His compatriot Leonard Pine is a black guy, very tough, but differs from Hawk in one very important way: he’s gay. This makes for some interesting repartee. He’s also quite a cut-up, the funny guy to Hap’s straight (double entendre there) guy. Leonard usually introduces himself as “The Smartest Nigger in the World.” When they get in trouble–which is often–Leonard’s snarkiness probably provoked it.

Hap and Leonard don’t really have jobs. They bounce around East Texas (where Lansdale bases most of his books) having adventures. In “The Two Bear Mambo,” they head to Grovetown, a notorious KKK stronghold, to look for Florida, an ex of Hap who was last known to be there investigating a lynching.

Hap and Leonard have considered themselves somewhat invincible as a twosome. But Grovetown is a bit more than they can chew, though they try. They meet some engaging characters–the police chief, the town boss’s son Tim, a black cook, and others–whose racial views are not readily apparent. Is Sheriff Cantuck a good guy or a bad guy? Hard to tell.

The story focuses more on the lynching than on Florida; they have trouble getting any kind of a bead on what happened to Florida. Their experiences in Grovetown also lead to some soul-searching which added a fascinating dimension.

I read the two previous Hap and Leonard books, “Savage Season” and “Mucho Mojo,” and they just keep getting better. Lansdale is superb at drawing rich characters. The dialogue, especially between Hap and Leonard, is a pure treasure. Lansdale doesn’t try to wrap up all the loose ends, but does tell a great story which keeps your rapt attention. This is a series I’ll definitely keep reading.

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Exploiting the Amish: Enough Already!

Last Friday, I was in a Christian bookstore shopping for my wife. As I perused the fiction racks, I felt bothered by how many books dealt with the Amish. Series after series focused on these people who just want to be left alone.

My niece Paula, who manages a Christian bookstore, told me that 1 out of every 5 Christian fiction books that are sold deal with the Amish. Christian capitalism at work. Evangelical publishers and authors are making tens of millions of dollars off of the Amish. How much money do you think the Amish get out of it?

As if that’s not enough, there is the “Beverly Lewis Amish Heritage Cookbook”, the “Pocket Guide to Amish Life,” “Amish Proverbs: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life,” “The Simple Joys of the Amish Life,” and many more.

This is just creepy. It’s a blatant form of exploitation, and I find it disturbing.

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Sanctimonious Reverence for the Constitution

I’m not one of those people who view the US Constitution as divinely inspired, who view the Founding Fathers as Fairytale Land superheroes, and who insist all would be well if we would just get back to doing things the way the Founders did them. The Constitution is a living document, designed to evolve over time to meet the needs and desires of the current and future generations. The Constitution is not set in stone, to be followed only as originally written. We are not bound by the dictates of our ancestors.

On the other hand, the Constitution is to be respected. Those Founding Fathers were an unusually gifted assortment of thinkers and dreamers, who happened to be in the same place at the same time. I respect them greatly. But they weren’t infallible, no matter what Glenn Beck tells us.

With that in mind, here is a quote from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote:

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment….

Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors….

Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before. It has then, like them, a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness.

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Facebook Religious Views

On your Facebook profile, you can list your “Religious Views.” Mine, for a long time, has said, “Evangelical Christian, but not a jerk about it.”

I stumbled across one of my Facebook friends (that would be you, Dusty), who had this for his religious views: “Jesus, minus the crap.” I liked that.

With free time on my hands, I decided to check the Religious Views of my other Facebook friends, most of whom are Christians of pretty much the same stripe as me. Many just put something basic, like “Christian” or “Christ follower.” But others got more creative. Here are some:

  • It’s about truth, so it’s about Jesus
  • I’m a Christian, because I’m in desperate need of a Savior, and Jesus is the only one.
  • In my best moments I trust Jesus deeply.
  • Nothing but Jesus!
  • Right Wing Evangelical Republican Wacko.
  • Christian – Church of Christ: A fundamentalist with his eye on Matt. 25:40. [I’ll spare you having to look it up: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”]
  • Deeply committed Christian.
  • Jesus loves me this I know.
  • Working on believing in and behaving like Jesus.
  • I am C, I am a CH, I am a CHRISTIAN….and so on.
  • Totally Jesus.
  • A personal God who transforms lives.
  • Unabashedly Lutheran (but reasonably so…)
  • Christian, lunatic fringe.
  • John 3:30 “He must become great, and I must become less.”

I also looked up the “Political Views” of my Facebook friends. I’ll mention some of those next.

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Christmas with Pam, Me, and the Kids

The kids await more presents. That's Jordi on the right, older sister Molly on the left.

Molly like's Pam's new bathrobe. They are the same color. When Molly lays on Pam and sheds, you won't notice.

Molly is checking out Cynthia, Pam's new Annette Funicello bear. Pam has scores of Annette bears, and Cynthia is now the largest.

Molly apparently likes Cynthia.

Jordi always enjoys laying under the tree amidst the gifts.

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Book: “Playback,” by Raymond Chandler

“Playback,” published in 1958, was Raymond Chandler’s last novel. He only wrote 9 of them. Unless you count the unfinished “Poodle Springs,” which Robert Parker completed in 1989 and which I hear isn’t very good. I don’t figure on reading that one.

Chandler wrote 7 novels starring PI Philip Marlowe, plus 2 anthologies of short stories. All nine are published under the Vintage Black Lizard imprint. The first book, “The Big Sleep,” was his most famous, thanks to a movie starring Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe. It was also my introduction to the Black Lizard books; I’ve now read a little over 100 of them.

The sixth Marlowe book, “The Long Goodbye,” though very good, lacked Chandler’s celebrated wit. But a good share of it returned in “Playback,” though still not to the level of his early books. But we’re still talking about Chandler the wordsmith who, witty or dry, can write circles around most anyone.

I really liked “Playback.” It’s a short book, just 167 pages, which I polished off in one day. Marlowe is hired to follow a young lady named Betty Mayfield, beginning at a train station, and see where she goes. He does, and adventures ensue. He tries to get a handle on her story, and why she’s being followed. It seems she’s being blackmailed. There’s another Kansas City PI, a wealthy hotel owner, the obligatory hardnosed policemen, and various other characters. These characters aren’t sharply drawn, but enough to make them interesting.

“Playback” is a simple, straightforward book. No complex plot-lines to keep straight. When the story unfolds, it makes sense. Then comes a nice little surprise, which harks back to “The Long Good-bye.”

I really liked this book. It is tightly written, clever in word usage, has interesting characters, and presents a Marlowe who is not the caustic, humorless fellow of “The Long Goodbye.”

I’ve now finished all nine of Chandler’s books. What a delight he has been.

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Books: Three Vampire Stories

Pam and I started watching “The Vampire Diaries” via Netflix. I’ve always enjoyed vampire lore, and how people render the vampire story in movies and on TV. Pam and I watched all of the Buffy and Angel series, and have really liked the Twilight movies. Now we’re big fans of “The Vampire Diaries.” The final disc in Season 1 arrived yesterday.

With vampires in my head, I read three vampire books. Two of them, like the Twilight books, are categorized as juvenile fiction. If you look in a bookstore, the juvenile shelves are filled with books involving vampires. I picked out three series that seemed promising, and read the first book in each to see if I might want to continue reading that series. In all three cases, the answer is a yes, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. All were quick reads.

“A Living Nightmare” (2002), Book 1 of the Cirque du Freak series, by Darren Shan. Darren Shan’s main character is Darren Shan, a high schooler who stumbles across the vampire world at an underground freak show called Cirque du Freak. I don’t get why he uses his own name, as if it’s a mock true story, but whatever.

Not a whole lot happens in the first book, but we do get well acquainted with Darren Shan (the character), and learn a few things about how Darren Shan (the author) will develop the vampire legend. Darren wants to become a vampire, and arranges to join the circus as a vampire’s assistant, sort of a “vampire in training” role.

It was an engaging book, and a quick read. There are 12 books in this series, divided into four trilogies.

“Eighth Grade Bites” (2007), Book 1 in the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, by Heather Brewer. There are 5 books in this series, one for each year of school, ending with “Twelfth Grade Kills.”

The protagonist, Vladimir Tod, was born a vampire. His father was a vampire, his mother human; both were killed by vampires, and he’s being raised by an aunt. He’s 13, attending 8th grade, has a crush on a particular girl, and gets regularly harassed by two bullies. His lunches are spiked with blood capsules, since that’s what provides him nourishment. He must keep secret the fact that he’s a vampire; only his family and a friend know.

Turns out a society of vampires is looking for him. They killed his parents (his father fell out of favor), and there’s something special about Vladimir which even he doesn’t realize (and we’re not informed about in this first book).

I liked this book better than the Cirque du Freak book, and I’ll definitely read more.

“13 Bullets” (2007), Book 1 of the Vampire Series by David Wellington. Wellington wrote a trilogy about zombies, and just started a series about werewolves. In between are four books about vampires.

“13 Bullets,” you discover quickly, is not juvenile fiction. The main characters are adults (a police detective and a US Marshall), the action can be gruesome, and a few expletives creep in. There is nothing romantic, or even human, about Wellington’s vampires. They don’t look human anymore, they are merciless killers, they are almost unstoppable in their speed and strength, and there is absolutely nothing redeeming about them. They must be killed.

The protagonist is Laura Caxton, a Pennsylvania State Trooper. It’s believed that vampires were wiped out 20 years ago when Jameson Arkeley, now a US Marshall, killed the last remaining ones. But one vampire remains, imprisoned for the past 20 years yet somehow able to create new vampires on the outside.

Caxton gets teamed with Arkeley to track down and kill the new vampires and their half-dead minions. There is a lot of mayhem, lots of bodies. Wellington takes some new approaches to the vampire legend. I liked the story, which moved right along, and will read more in the series.

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Anchor Soup with Santa

Pam and I got our picture taken with Santa during Anchor’s December 19 “Soup with Santa” after-church potluck.

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Jordi in the Snow

Jordi perched on our stone blocks, avoiding the snow.

Yes, it's dark, and I'm outside in the snow taking pictures.

Sure, the temperature is in the teens and below (that would be the aughts), but Jordi still wants to go outside. Since he doesn’t like getting his paws wet, I shovel little paths so he can walk around. Once he gets to the stone blocks rimming out home, he can walk clear around to the front of the house.

However, Jordi’s getting soft in his old (11?) age. He lasts about 5 minutes, and then wants to come back in. Though last night, when I took these pictures (yes, I was out there in the frigidness snapping photos of my kid), he lasted a good 10 minutes. He finally made it around to the front, where we let him in.

Molly, on the other hands, wants nothing to do with the cold outdoors. She’s an indoor cat and proud of it.

Life in the Dennie household.

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