Saturday, January 31, 2009

Book Review: Satan and the Problem of Evil

Some books are destined to become classics. I believe that Gregory A Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy will be one of those books.

Boyd has written extensively on so-called open theism. In this book, he turns to the profoundly difficult question of how God relates to evil and suffering (the technical theological term for this issue is theodicy). Underlying his discussion is an open theist set of beliefs, but they only form part of the fabric of Boyd's total view. The most significant theme is that there is a warfare going on and humans are caught up in this warfare. This explains, in part, why humans suffer and why God responds to suffering in the way God does. But to say this is to inadequately describe Boyd's contribution to this issue.

Boyd is thoroughly orthodox in his trinitarian and warfare views. But orthodoxy is not really the issue. He is also thoroughly biblical. Many critics incorrectly accuse open theists of minimising the evidence of Scripture and undermining the sovereignty, omnipotence, and omniscience of God. Boyd has written a brilliant, comprehensive, and cohesive argument that integrates all the biblical evidence in a coherent statement about the problem of evil. He firmly lays the blame where it should be: on Satan's shoulders and all those beings who choose evil. Of course, not all questions are answered. No model or theology will ever answer all of our questions and may, in fact, raise some. But for someone looking for a sensitive theology of suffering and evil  needs to read this book to see the possibilities that Scripture allows for understanding this intractable problem.

Satan and the Problem of Evil is divided into two halves. The first half presents an argument for the warfare worldview. The second part of the book turns to practical and pastoral concerns and how the warfare view helps enrich our understandings of important aspects of the Christian's spiritual life.

Boyd begins by describing what he calls the "Blueprint Worldview" which has, at its heart, the teaching that God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge (EDF) of the future. He contrasts this with the "warfare view" and then describes the essential goal of the book which

is to answer this question. How are we to conceive of an all-powerful God creating beings who to some degree possess the power to thwart his will, and thus against whom he must genuinely battle if he is to accomplish his will? The attempt to answer this question is the attempt to render philosophically coherent the warfare worldview of Scripture as well as the war-torn appearance of our world. (p. 16)

In making his argument, Boyd adopts the Wesleyan 'methodological quadrilateral of Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition as the criteria for theological truth.' (p. 16) Specifically, he holds to the following assumptions (expressed in Boyd's words):

  1. Scripture is divinely inspired and therefore trustworthy on all matters that it intends to teach.
  2. ... reason, if employed correctly, is also a trustworthy guide in seeking truth.
  3. ... experience has a legitimate role to play in our quest for truth.
  4. ... church tradition has a dialectical role to play in our quest for truth.' (pp. 22-23)

Using the above methodological assumptions, the rest of the first part of the book argues for a trinitarian warfare theodicy based on six theses (once again, expressed in Boyd's language):

  1. Love must be freely chosen.
  2. Love entails risk.
  3. Love, and thus freedom, entails that we are to some extent morally responsible for one another.
  4. The power to influence for the worse must be roughly proportionate to our power to influence for the better.
  5. Freedom must be, within limits, irrevocable. This entails that, to some extent, God places an irrevocable limitation on himself with his decision to create beings who have the capacity to love and who are therefore free.
  6. This limitation, however, is not infinite, for our capacity to freely choose to love is not endless.

These six theses are worked out in incredible detail drawing on biblical, philosophical, and empirical evidence with the biblical material taking precedence over all others. Boyd sensitively responds to objections to the trinitarian warfare theodicy, especially from proponents of the EDF perspective.

In the last few paragraphs of Part 1, Boyd contends that the truth of the sixth theses means

... we can make sense out of the fact that a world created by an all-good, all-powerful God could become a nightmarish war zone. In contrast to all blueprint theodicies, within the trinitarian warfare theodicy we need not assume that there is a specific, good divine reason why God ordains or allows each specific evil event to take place. The only reason God allows free agents to engage in evil deeds is that this possibility is what it means to create agents free. The specific reasons why these agents actualize this possibility in particular ways is found in them, not God. If God is justified in risking freedom in general, we need not ask why God allowed any particular event. To be sure, God can use evil agents to fulfill his purposes, and he always works to bring good out of evil. But God's specific way of responding to a particular evil must not be confused with God specifically ordaining or allowing a particular evil.

If the six trinitarian warfare theses are accepted, we can also begin to make sense of the fact that God is assured of winning the war, though many particular battles have yet to be decided. We can further understand why God must tolerate for a time the evil activity of rebellious agents, how it is that love must be risky now but not in heaven, and why it is that God's interaction with his creatures appears so arbitrary. (p. 205)

It is impossible to exaggerate the power of Boyd's argument in this first part of the book. And the second part is no less powerful as he turns to practical and pastoral issues covering prayer, miracles, and the arbitrariness of life; natural evil; and the doctrine of hell and eternal suffering (where he develops a view of hell that integrates both eternal suffering and annihilationism — very intriguing!). His application of the trinitarian warfare theodicy to these areas resolve so many questions — although some difficult ones remain — and I'm not sure I agree with his conclusions about hell). Boyd's discussion of these issues restores the possibility of genuine faith, hope, and love in our relationship to God.

At the end of the book, Boyd provides a series of appendices that deal with some technical issues including responding to further objections to his view, philosophical arguments related to the relationship of foreknowledge and free will, and the issue of chance.

Satan and the Problem of Evil is a very significant book. Boyd is thorough, respectful, rigorous, and, despite the philosophical nature of some chapters, practical and pastoral. His interest in this issue is derived and driven by real life and real people experiencing real questions. This book should be in the library of every thinking Christian. For some, it may be a little difficult to read. If that is the case, the reader might like to consult Boyd's simpler book Is God to Blame?

The problem of evil has been one of the most significant reasons people have given up on God. At last, new perspectives are beginning to bring some answers and relief to those who struggle with evil.

More books to read ...

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson et al

An excellent, practical book on how to listen and speak when engaging in conversations when opinion vary, stakes are high, or emotions are strong.

Postmodern Children's Ministry: Ministry to Children in the 21st Century Church (Emergent YS) by Ivy Beckwith

Children learn and process the world very differently in the 21st century. Ivy Beckwith draws on her experience to discuss how those in children's ministry must adjust to the realities of contemporary postmodern society and culture.

50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Should Know (Ideas You Really Need to Know) by Ben Dupre

An engagingly presented introduction to 50 philosophical ideas from absolutism to zombies. Each concept is dealt with in just four pages with inserts, timelines, and interesting facts.

The Book of Dead Philosophers (Vintage)by Simon Critchley

What does it mean to die? How should we die? What is a good death? This book surveys the deaths of nearly 200 philosophers from the pre-Socratic Thales to Dominque Janicaud in 2002.  A meditation on accepting our creatureliness.

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokesby Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

You might think that philosophy is a dry, abstract subject. But the two authors of this book believe that one of the best ways to learn about philosophy is by examining jokes. A delightful, intriguing introduction.

Two men are making breakfast. As one is buttering the toast, he says, "Did you ever notice that if you drop a piece of toast, it always lands butter side down?"

The second guy says, "No, I bet it just seems that way because it's so unpleasant to clean up the mess when it lands butter side down. I bet it lands butter side up just as often."

The first guy says, "Oh, year? Watch this." He drops the toast to the floor, where it lands butter side up.

The second guy says, "See. I told you."

The first guy says, "Oh, I see what happened. I buttered the wrong side!'

To find out what this joke says about the concept of falsifiability, read the book!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book Review: The Shack

I had so many people tell me about Wm Paul Young's book The Shack that I just had to go and get it and read it. Sometimes a book comes along that has a strong impact on readers and The Shack is clearly one of those books.

Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible paraphrase, has suggested that The Shack may '... do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his.' I agree. The Shack is fiction but conveys profound truths about a God that is loving and worth loving.

Mackenzie "Mack" Allen Phillips is a broken man. Seven or so years ago, Mack went on a river camping trip with his children. During the trip, his daughter Missy is kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer. They find her blood-stained dress in a shack confirming their fears. Since that time, a "great sadness" has plagued Mack leading him to give up on God. Why should he have a relationship with a god that is supposed to be loving but couldn't save his daughter and prevent other similar evils.

One day, Mack discovers a note in his letterbox. It invites him to the shack for a weekend. But it seems to be from God?! It is totally unbelievable. Why would God do such a thing? Surely someone is playing a cruel joke. But Mack's decides to go to the shack. What is there to lose?

When he arrives, he spends the weekend having conversations with God. But the God he meets and what he learns blows away all of the preconceived ideas he held about God.

The Shack is compelling and moving reading. If you think you know God, then you need to travel to The Shack with Mack and listen in on the conversations. This book will challenge what you think. With profound pastoral sensitivity, Wm Paul Young lays before us a view of God that seeks to deal with the most difficult and pressing questions people have. Why does God allow such evil and suffering to continue if God is a loving God? Is God really loving? Or is he impotent in the face of evil?

The Shack not only explores issues of suffering and evil; the "conversations" range over spirituality, gender, faith and belief, the Christian life, the nature of love.

Listing topics like the above may suggest that The Shack is a discussion of abstract concepts and ideas. Far from it! The Shack is a story — a story that deeply resonates with our own stories. Young is able to convey ideas in a way which makes them accessible to anyone. We so often forget that God has communicated in Scripture primarily through story. And the power of story to make us think is used by Young in The Shack.

According to the biographical summary on the back of the book,

Wm Paul Young was born a Canadian and raised among a stone-age tribe by his missionary parents in the highlands of what was New Guinea. He suffered great loss as a child and young adult, and now enjoys the "wastefulness of grace" with his family in the Pacific Northwest.

Young's life story has produced a unique and powerful narrative that is grounded in the struggles that many of us face and the doubts that plague us. The Shack is surely inspired. It cannot be read without bringing a change in the way we understand and relate to God.

The Shack may be one of the most significant and relevant books for this generation. Even if you don't agree with everything in the book, you will not be left unaffected. Its simplicity is deep and profound. Get it. Read it. And come to a greater and more relevant understanding of God. Allow the story to challenge your preconceptions and provoke wonder at a God who is willing to be intimate with her creation.

More to read ...

  • Thinking About God by Gregory E Ganssle A light-hearted, witty introduction to the philosophy of religion with clear explanations of difficult concepts.
  • Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World John Hick, Clark H Pinnock, Alister McGrath, R Douglas Geivett, and W Gary Phillips engage in a debate on different views of salvation. The four views covered are normative pluralism, inclusivism, salvation in Christ (agnosticism about those who haven't heard), and salvation in Christ alone (those outside of Christ are lost). Follows the format of others in the series.
  • Finding God in Unexpected Places by Philip Yancey A collection of Philip Yancey's writing drawn from various sources with the common theme of recognising God's presence in the unexpected.
  • Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views Dave Hunt and James White engage in a fiery debate over Calvinism. Entertaining but ultimately disappointing because of the selection of Dave Hunt to critique Calvinism. It would have been good to have a scholar who was an expert in the field.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Movie Review: Doubt


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Doubt and certainty. These two have been at war with each other as long as humans have been discussing religion and faith. Many Christians see doubt as the enemy of belief and faith and do everything they can to eradicate it. Someone once wrote that '[d]oubt digs the grave of faith.'  Frederick William Faber wrote: 'For right is right, since God is God,/ And right the day must win;/ To doubt would be disloyalty,/ To falter would be sin.'

Others see doubt as a necessary part of faith and growth in understanding. Robert Browning believed that the person '[w]ho knows most, doubts most.' And Rene Descarte, in his Principles of Philosophy argued that,

[i]f you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.

At the very beginning of John Patrick Shanley's new movie, Doubt, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) preaches a sermon to his congregation where he asks the question: 'What do you do when you're not sure?'

There are two answers to this question: You could acknowledge doubt, exploring it as best you can, accept that there may be things we can never know, and live with the ambiguity that so often is a characteristic of human life. Or you could retreat into a dogmatic certainty, suppressing any doubts, and act forcefully to live as though your understanding is the absolute truth — sometimes wreaking great evil in the process. This choice between certainty and doubt is the theme of Doubt. And what a profound movie it is!

Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the parish priest of St Nicholas Church School in the Bronx during the autumn (fall) of 1964 just after Vatican II which called for priests to see themselves as 'part of the family' of their parishioners.

The principal of the school, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is an old-school nun who commands the respect of her staff and students through fear. She is ruthless and rigid. Sister James (Amy Adams) is a new teacher at the school who wants to motivate her students by inspiring them to learn because it is exciting and liberating. Sister James is innocent and naive and struggles to adapt to the governance of Sister Aloysius and is often troubled by her approach to disciplining of the students.

One of the students is the school's first black student, Donald Muller (Joseph Foster). Sister Aloysius begins to suspect that Father Flynn is taking an inappropriate interest in Donald. Her response is swift and ruthless. Sister James is caught up in Sister Aloysius's campaign when she is recruited to keep an eye on Father Flynn and report any suspicious behaviour she might witness.

The problem with Sister Aloysius's conclusion is that the evidence is ambiguous. But that does not deter Sister Aloysius who is totally convinced of the guilt of Father Flynn. So the story becomes a battle between doubt and certainty as the fate of Father Flynn resides in the outcome.

Doubt is an absolutely brilliant film for a number of reasons. Firstly, Shanley, the writer and director,  has sustained ambiguity throughout the story forcing us, as viewers, to come to our own conclusions about what is happening. As the narrative progresses, we must consider new information and perspectives and grapple with doubt and certainty in our own thinking.

Secondly, Shanley has refused to collapse into a predictable Hollywood ending. Those who must always have a satisfying resolution to all their stories may (will?) be disappointed. This is cinema at its best — it treats us as intelligent. To watch this movie is to be forced to think for ourselves about the issues and consider our own relationship to doubt.

Thirdly, there are the actors. Meryl Streep is superb as Sister Aloysius. She inhabits her role to such an extent that we forget that it is Meryl Streep. And Philip Seymour Hoffman could not have been better in portraying Father Flynn. The occasions we see these two great actors on the screen together are tense and electrifying. And Amy Adams, Joseph Foster, and Viola Davis (who plays Donald Muller's mother) offer us subtle and powerful performances.

Doubt is the most thoughtful movie of the year so far. It's provocative portrayal of doubt and the potential evil of certainty is timely, penetrating, and deeply provocative. Doubt is a must-see movie — and I am completely certain about that!


Positive Review
'An intellectually and emotionally exhausting and engrossing experience. It is drama of the highest caliber.' - James Berardinelli/ReelViews

Negative Review
'Streep can do anything. She is, of course, wasted on this elephantine fable; if only Doubt had been made in 1964, shot by Roger Corman over a long weekend, and retitled "Spawn of the Devil Witch" or "Blood Wimple," all would have been forgiven.' - Anthony Lane/The New Yorker

Content Advice
Thematic material

USA: PG-13

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Movie Review: Religulous (2008)

Religulous Go to IMDb page

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The latest anti-religious documentary to hit cinema screens is Bill Maher's Religulous. The word "religulous" is a neologism (made-up word) that combines religion and ridiculous. That pretty much sums up what Bill Maher thinks of religion.

Religulous is ostensibly a documentary that surveys current religious beliefs and practices in the world today. Unfortunately, it's actually about how "smart" Bill Maher is at ridiculing and mocking religion using the worst possible cases of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish fundamentalism he can find. On the rare occasion it is slightly humorous and ironic (for example, the Muslim rapper who believes in freedom of speech and tolerance for himself but not for anyone who disagrees with Islamic beliefs). There are also the couple of absolutely delightful and intelligent Roman Catholic priests, one of whom is a scientist and the other a high official in Rome.

Bill Maher is a controversial comedian, actor, writer and producer who is most famous (apparently) for a US late night show called Politically Incorrect. You will note that theologian doesn't appear in this list of qualifications and Religulous proves that Maher knows nothing about religion than some sort of school yard version that is naive, primitive, and completely lacking in any nuance.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the obvious ignorance that Maher displays about religion is his clear lack of ability to listen. Sure, most of the people he "interviews" are complete nut cases or blind fanatics. In the entire 101 minutes, he only "interviews" two or three people that sound remotely intelligent or informed about their own beliefs. Even so, if you are going to interview someone, there should probably be more of the interviewee speaking than the interviewer. In Bill Maher's case, he clearly thinks he is smart and funny and condescendingly interrupts with mocking comments and questions that I think are supposed to impress the viewer.

By the end of Religulous, we come to realise that Bill Maher is as dogmatic and myopic as the people he has interviewed. The film ends with him ranting against religion with apocalyptic images flashing on the screen suggesting that the world will end because of religion.

In addition to the self-opinionated, self-congratulatory Maher, according to the Internet Movie Database, while the movie was being made it was called A Spiritual Journey so that interviews could be arranged with religious leaders without them knowing the type of "documentary" being made. Until Bill Maher arrived for the interviews, people did not know he was involved in the film. Clearly, Maher was setting his interviewees up so that he could control what happened and capitalise on their confusion to make them look stupid. So his whole approach is premised on deception from the beginning. That, along with a highly selected sample weighted toward the fanatic or self-deluded, results in a film that is not really of much value at all.

Please understand — I think religious fundamentalism is dangerous. But when Maher's Religulous is put alongside other productions like Andrew Denton's God On My Side, Religulous pales into complete insignificance. The alleged humour is not even funny. Even Richard Dawkins's Root of All Evil? which I heartily criticised is better than this! Even Michael Moore is better!!

Religulous is little more than a slightly amusing promotion of Bill Maher as he uses (often ill-informed, uneducated, dogmatic, fundamentalist) people to have us all look at him and think how clever he is. Don't watch it to learn anything. Actually, don't bother to even watch it for entertainment.


Note: Religulous has not yet been released in Australia as far as I know. However, the entire movie can be viewed online by clicking here.

Positive Review 'He's a bombs-away provocateur, and in Religulous, Maher's blasphemous detonation of all things holy and scriptural, he doesn't really pretend to play fair. He's like Lenny Bruce with an inquiring mind and a video camera.' - Owen Gleiberman/Entertainment Weekly

Negative Review 'One of the rules of satire is that you can't mock things you don't understand, and Religulous starts developing fault lines when it becomes clear that Maher's view of religious faith is based on a sophomoric reading of the Scriptures and that he doesn't understand that some thoughtful people actually do believe in some sort of spiritual life.' - Neely Tucker/Washington Post

Content Advice Some language and sexual material


More movies ...

Seven Pounds An IRS investigator travels around seeking to help people he thinks is good. Better than I expected. Worth thinking about the nature of grace after seeing this movie. 3half-stars

Igor A very boring, unfunny animated movie about an assistant to an evil scientist who wants to become a scientist and inventor himself. An obvious message about accepting others but very derivative and humourless. 2-stars

Funny Games (DVD) A slavish remake of the original Funny Games by the same director which is not quite as good as the original. See my review of the original here. 3half-stars

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Movie Review: I've Loved You So Long (2008)

Il y a longtemps que je t'aime

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I've Loved You So Long is a French drama that is deeply sad but, in the end, filled with hope.

Juliette (the brilliant Kristin Scott Thomas) is released from a 15-year prison sentence for murder. During that time, she has had no contact with her family. But on her release, her younger sister, Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), suggests that Juliette come and stay with her family.

But things don't go well as Juliette retreats into her own moral purgatory and Lea's husband resents her and distrusts her around his own children (and who wouldn't!). Juliette has been away for so long she has to learn to live in the world again but we can see that there is a lot more beneath the surface than just readjusting from a life in prison. It is clear from the beginning that she doesn't really want to be there. She seems resigned to never being accepted again.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about what Juliette did and our perceptions and understanding constantly change, along with her sister's, as she tries to make sense out of Juliette's crime. But it is not the act of crime itself which so engages us — it is Juliette's inner journey that is so riveting. We, as viewers, are also desperate to see what it was that led someone like Juliette to murder. Who was it? And why did she do it?

Kristen Scott Thomas is brilliant as the emotionally troubled Juliette who feels as though she is an outcast and cannot make contact with those around her. Elsa Zylberstein, as the sister, sensitively portrays her own emotional journey as she tries to relate to Juliette. The relationship between the two sisters forms the backbone of the narrative.

I've Loved You So Long is a powerful, subtle, emotional journey. It's understatement and lack of sensationalism add to its power and forces the viewer to consider how they would respond in the same situation. It also confronts us with our willingness to judge without knowing the whole story of someone else's circumstances. I've Loved You So Long deals with some deeply emotional and sensitive issues but is most definitely worth the journey.


Positive Review
'Kristin Scott Thomas' performance in I've Loved You So Long is one of a small handful of highlights by which people will remember this year in movies. This is acting at its most exalted.' - Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicle

Negative Review
'Claudel commits the cardinal sin of withholding the full story until the very end, when it spills out in a histrionic scene between the two sisters and largely exonerates the older one.' - J R Jones/Chicago Reader

Content Advice
Thematic material and smoking

USA: PG-13

And there's more ...

Madagascar 2 Africa
Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and a few hangers-on decide to escape from Madagascar in a plane that's ability to fly is highly questionable. They yearn for their old lives back home at the zoo. Unfortunately, the plane crashes in Africa providing a wonderful opportunity for all sorts of goings on. An ok sequel.

Bolt 3D
A wonderful animated adventure about Bolt, a dog who is a superhero in a TV show but doesn't realise it is pretend. His costar, Penny, goes missing and Bolt sets out to rescue her. On the way, he learns that true heroism is not about having super powers. Absolutely delightful.

An Indian adaptation of Memento — although saying it is an adaptation is stretching the point. The main character has lost his short term memory after witnessing the murder of his lover and he seeks revenge. But short term memory presents a bit of a problem. Completely excessive in its violence, soundtrack, varieties of genre but somehow enjoyable. I saw it in a cinema full of Indian patrons and their enjoyment rubbed off on me.

Ae Fond Kiss
A moving portrait of a relationship between a Pakistani man and a Caucasian woman and all the cross-cultural problems it brings.

Taxi to the Dark Side
A deeply disturbing documentary telling the story of an innocent taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed by US interrogators in 2002. In addition to his story, we learn about the United States use of torture in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. Won Oscar for Best Documentary in 2008. A must-see.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Book Review: Daddy's Little Earner

It is truly heartbreaking to hear how some children must live their lives. Maria Landon is one of those children and she tells the story of her childhood in Daddy's Little Earner.

From her birth, Maria's psychopathic father boasted that he was going to make her the best prostitute on the block. She (along with her mother and brothers and sisters) was abused — physically and emotionally. At the age of 9, her father began to sexually abuse her and by 14 she was working on the streets as a prostitute under the control of her father.

When Maria became pregnant with her first child, everything changed for her — she knew she had to escape the life she was living. But trying to escape one's past is not so easy and she struggles to make a life for herself.

Daddy's Little Earner is an agonizing story. It places Maria's experience in front of us in all its horror and pulls no punches. It raises questions about how someone like Maria's father could get away with what he did. But abusive people often display charming personalities to endear those outside the family.

Maria's story helps us understand the techniques that abusive, manipulative people use to keep their "loved" ones under their control. It also conveys the incredible confusion experienced by those who are abused as they try to grapple with the evil perpetrated on them while, at the same time, feeling love for the perpetrator. No child should have to live through what Maria lived (and lives) through. But hundreds and thousands of children around the world do.

Maria is now the mother of two sons aged 19 and 22. On the inside cover of the book, we are informed that 'her aim is to help people who have been taught as children to think that they are worthless...' It should also remind those of us who have not experienced what Maria and other children have experienced that building a sense of self-worth in children is one of the most important things we can do. A child who feels that they are valued and valuable is much less likely to be controlled by others.

Daddy's Little Earner ultimately leaves us wondering what will happen for Maria. We are not told how old Maria is now. But at the end of the book, she refers to a visit from her father when she was 30 years old after she has gone through years of counselling. Almost all the book is about her life up to around 19 years old. We are told almost nothing about the years in between. But now what? There doesn't seem to be any deep resolution — just a suspension in tension between love and hate for her father. I hope that, one day, Maria will be able to share with us something of the journey she has taken since she was 19 up until the present day. She speaks of transitory periods of forgiveness and hatred. One thing she knows: she never wants her father in her life again.

It would have taken great courage for Maria to tell her story. We need to listen to it, and the stories of others, to remind ourselves that there are children who are suffering deeply. We need to be sensitive to their suffering and the consequences to them so that we can respond appropriately, lovingly, and constructively when they need our help.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Book & Movie Roundup: 2008

books You can have a look at a list of all the books I read in 2008 by clicking here. They are listed in order from highest rating to lowest rating (out of 10). You can also click on a details link at the right hand column to read more about the book or access information and purchase details.

movies I have also provided a similar list for all the movies I saw in 2008 and included, along with my ratings (out of 10), also included IMDB ratings so you can compare them with mine. There is also a details link for movies that will provide further information.

Top 5 Books for 2008

Top 5 Movies for 2008

I wish you all a rich and rewarding 2009 with lots more books to read and movies to see! Happy thinking!

— Steve

Movie Review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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Woody Allen is back in fine form with his latest offering Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are opposites in personality. They are spending a summer in Barcelona when Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) approaches them and brazenly invites them to spend the weekend with him sightseeing and lovemaking. Vicky is attracted by the idea and Vicky unwilling goes alone. They travel to Oviedo aboard Juan's private plane and thus begins a complicated set of relationships that include Juan's ex-wife (Penelope Cruz).

The above summary is very minimal because Vicky Cristina Barcelona is better seen without knowing too much about what is coming. Woody Allen has created a superbly intricate meditation on love that, in 96 minutes, explores an incredible range of ideas, experiences, and questions. Like most of Woody Allen's movies, the emphasis is on dialogue — so watching the story requires careful listening. It is witty, philosophical, but earthy and what each character says fits nicely with their well-developed characterisations.

The plot is intriguing and takes unexpected turns and the resolution at the end of the story provides a lot to think about as you leave the cinema. The photography is superb. Apparently the city of Barcelona offered to pick up the tab for the production costs if the film was made there — and it is a visual feast.

Johansson and Bardem are brilliant in their roles — Woody Allen wrote the parts specifically Johansson and Bardem in mind — representing their different personalities will enormous skill. And Penelope Cruz is wonderfully wicked as the mad ex-wife. Vicky Cristina Barcelona has been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona may not be the best Woody Allen film he's produced; but it is great to sit through an entertaining, witty, story that has some depth and thought-provoking things to say. Don't expect this movie to give you answers about love — but enjoy thinking about the questions it raises. Most important may be the difference between romance and love. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a real gem.

My Rating: **** (out of 5)

A review that rates it similar to me ...

'Allen can be literal-minded about his thematic polarities, but, in this movie, he has put actors with first-class temperament on the screen, and his writing is both crisp and ambivalent: he works everything out with a stringent thoroughness that still allows room for surprise.' – David Denby/The New Yorker

Positive Review

'The film's freedom and control, its inspiration and focus, announce it as the work of a confident and mature artist.' – Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicler

Negative Review

'Watching Allen fart out a story when he has no characters is always painful, as people are defined through clumsy expository dialogue and ranked according to their cultural accomplishments. But the script here is lazy even by his standards.' – J R Jones/Chicago Reader

Content Advice

Mature thematic material involving sexuality, and smoking


USA: PG-13

And there's more ...

Australia **** (0ut of 5)

A sweeping epic that is entertaining, humorous, and probably one of the best roles Nicole Kidman has performed. Provides great insight into Australian history and culture. A great movie!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ***1/2 (out of 5)

Benjamin Button is born old and grows younger as everyone around him grows older. Intriguing premise. Too long. But worth a look.

The Day the Earth Stood Still **** (out of 5)

A lot of people didn't like this movie. I did. An entertaining science fiction about an alien who visits earth to rescue it from the environmental destruction being caused by humans. Can he be persuaded that humans will change and decide not to destroy them?

Dracula ***1/2 (out of 5)

A lavish retelling of the Dracula legend based on Bram Stoker's book. Focuses more on Dracula's need for love than blood, but still pretty gruesome. Has some hard to watch moments. Very popular when it was in the cinemas. (DVD)