Sunday, January 29, 2012

Movie Review: War Horse


Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, AI) is having a strong run with two movies on at cinemas at the moment. There’s the wonderfully enjoyable The Adventures of Tin Tin and the more serious epic War Horse.

Set during World War 1, War Horse tells the story of Albert (Jeremy Irvine) who enlists in the army after Joey (played by 6 different horses apparently), the horse he raised and loves, is commandeered by the cavalry. We follow the fortunes of both Albert and Joey as their journeys separate and cross in what, for the most part, is an exciting and sobering portrayal of the effects of war on both human and horse along the Western Front.

War Horse is classic epic story telling by a master of the art. Unfortunately, the quality of the film is undermined by the beginning and end of the story which comes across as cheesy and overacted. Apart from two memorable scenes – one of Joey running riderless through “no man’s land” and becoming entangled in barbed wire; and another near the beginning of the movie, where Albert has to entice Joey to plough a field – most of the film is simplistic – possibly the result of trying to make the movie straddle the whole family as its audience.

The actors do a worthy job but the real winners in this movie are the horses that portray Joey. I heard an interview with their trainer who stated that managing a horse, in a movie, without a rider is a particularly difficult challenge. For me, the horse was the most believable and enjoyable part of the movie.

War Horse is definitely not up with the best of Spielberg’s movies.


You will probably like War Horse if you liked The Black Stallion; Empire of the Sun; Saving Private Ryan

Positive Review
'There isn't a moment in the movie where you don't feel Spielberg's passion, and this time, the film is worthy of his enthusiasm. It's a knockout.' – Rene Rodriguez/Miami Herald

Negative Review
'Director Steven Spielberg doesn't have a steady grip on War Horse's careening tone, but he'll be damned if there's not 15 minutes in there for everyone.’ – Amy Nicholson/Boxoffice Magazine

Content Advice
intense sequences of war violence and themes

AUS: M15+
USA: PG-13

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Atheism 2.0

Very interesting lecture by Alain de Botton on what atheism can learn from religions. A good reminder for Christians, too, about some of the better aspects of religion.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Book Review: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

pleasures of readingGrowing up in a conservative Christian home, I was taught that fiction was a waste of time and that I should be very careful about what I read so that I wouldn’t be seduced by error. I’m grateful that I completely ignored both of those rules. However, I used to read for information and, although I was a voracious reader and enjoyed reading, underlying my reading was always an instrumental assumption that I could use what I learned to advise others or make myself a better person. I also tend to be a person that likes to be organised in my reading – I keep lists of books I want to read and, until recently, I tended to read the next one on the list. It was difficult for me to just “randomly” pick something to read just for pleasure and just because it was of interest at the moment. And I also felt that, at some time in my life, I really needed to read all the “classics” or “great books” in the Western “canon”.

Apparently, I am not alone. According to Alan Jacobs in his delightful book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction these types of approaches to “responsible” reading are widespread and part of the way we have been educated to read. But Jacobs will have none of it! He brings a breath of fresh air to reading that lifts any burden we might feel and, instead, recommends we read what we find pleasurable – without shame!

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction is a meditative reflection on reading that avoids telling the reader what they should read. No rules here other than some guidelines about gaining the most from reading. Instead, we are to read at Whim. He writes:

… my commitment to one dominant, overarching definitive principle for reading: Read at Whim (italics in original)


Read what gives you delight – at least most of the time – and do so without shame.

Jacobs is not suggesting that we do not sometimes read the so-called “great books” that require us to commit to a demanding read. But he likens those to what we might eat at an elegant restaurant – we eat sometimes but not every day. Reading at Whim cannot be the only reason we read. But it is a type of reading we need to recover.

Jacobs does distinguish between lower-case whim and upper-case Whim. The lower-case version

…is thoughtless, directionless preference that almost leads to boredom or frustration or both. But Whim is something very different: it can guide us because it is based in self-knowledge.

Jacobs explores the difference between the two using examples from literature – demonstrating a vast richness of ancient and contemporary sources.

The idea that we can read at Whim is liberating! This book has already changed the way I read. He embraces new technologies (he has a fascinating discussion of the benefits of reading with a Kindle compared to a traditional book) and iconoclastically sweeps away a whole lot tired assumptions that make reading so burdensome for many people.

So… if you want to consider a new approach to reading that has the potential to enliven it again for you, then check out this excellent, Whimsical little book.

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