Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Day of the Falcon

I don't often write reviews on here, much less often of movies. Every now and then, though, one comes along that gives me a fresh perspective on something. It may be a subject I've read or watched a lot about––but always from a very objective viewpoint. What a good novel or movie does I think is give you a very human picture of a place or issue. And, for all our best efforts, we are human, so in the end, the human picture is often the right one. "[F]iction illuminating people and culture in a far more intimate manner than any guide book," is how NYT Bureau Chief Neil MacFarquhar put it when explaining why he reads a novel about any country before reporting from it.

And that is definitely what The Day of the Falcon did for me. I'm not sure if it really changed anything I think about the way things are in the Middle East today, but it makes it much easier to understand issues like "Arab identity" and the tension between progress and tradition that seem really abstract or even absurd on paper. I would recommend it based on that alone, but the fact is also: It's just a really good movie. The finest epic I've seen in quite awhile, in fact.

Awesome desert battle scenes, very nuanced relationships, and most importantly, Day of the Falcon avoids the frequent epic pit-fall of being the Arabian version of Avatar, which was the sci-fi version of The Last Samurai, which was the Japanese version of Dances with Wolves. In the first half-hour I was afraid the movie would go down that path, but then the writers surprised me by having a much deeper and more thought provoking plot.

Also, I first watched Day of the Falcon some time ago, but last time I checked, it was on Netflix, so you really have no excuse for not watching it ;)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Worm

Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”

And everyone said Amen.

Because what is the point of life when there are CUTWORMS!

How is it possible that any good or order exists in the universe when your yellow hungarian wax plants look like THIS:


My moment of heresy has passed––and aluminum foil collars have been applied to the survivors of the horticultural holocaust.

It's still a tragedy, though, is it not?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Columbia Cross Roads

Columbia Cross Roads is technically the town I grew up in. The word technically has never been applied with more specificity in its meaning.

I don't know anyone who lives in Columbia Cross Roads. It has never meant anything to me beside an obnoxiously long thing to type into shipping address fields. Believe it or not, despite the fact that it has been my hometown for 21 of the last 24 years, until a few weeks ago, I had never even been anywhere in Columbia Cross Roads aside from Judson's Feed Store.

It has only ever had one redeeming quality in my mind: Much like Barack Obama's one saving grace was that he was not George Bush, Columbia Cross Roads, PA's one redeeming quality was that it was not Millerton, PA.

Now that I have thoroughly alienated my entire readership, let me get to the point.

It has been a distant and disdainful love affair. I have spent my whole life devising ways to get away from Columbia Cross Roads, PA. Some have been more successful than others.

NEVERTHELESS, despite all this, I was moved to emotion when I realized that Columbia Cross Roads, my hometown, was inadequately represented on Facebook.

Until about a year ago, there was not even such a place recognized on Facebook. That has changed, but it still, until this evening, lacked a photo. So today, on my way back from mowing lawns in Troy, I pulled up the hill that overlooks Columbia Cross Roads, pulled into a driveway, walked across the road, and snapped a photo.

It may have been the most dangerous act of journalistic intrigue I've ever attempted. Riga, Amman, Sidon and Beirut, as it turns out, have nothing on Columbia Cross Roads, because in Columbia Cross Roads, when you park your car in someone's driveway to take a photo of something across the road, they sick their German Shepard on you.

Somehow, I survived, and this, pending Facebook's approval, is the face of Columbia Cross Roads, PA:

Monday, June 09, 2014

A Shortcut to Mushrooms

This week I'm house-sitting for some friends in Corning. It's pretty much the same as being at home––myself in a big empty house––only for two differences: Instead of being completely alone, there are two dogs named Patch and Molly (no, those aren't drugs I'm on, there are actually two dogs with me) and instead of being 20 miles from anywhere, it's very close to just about everything I normally spend hours every week driving to get to. That last point isn't something I think of often, but it's amazing what a difference it makes.

Earlier today I decided I would make fish and chips for supper. When I got the stuff I'd bought on my way into town out this evening, though, I realized I'd forgotten to buy potatoes. Normally, this would simply mean I would be eating fish and chips. And so my initial reaction was one of disgust.

Then I realized, however, that if I wanted to go and get some potatoes, it would only take like three minutes. I wouldn't even have to stop pre-heating the oven. In fact, it was really unnecessary that I'd even bought stuff on my way into town. Or that I'd even thought about what I was going to make prior to five minutes before when I wanted to make it.

It's such a small thing, but the difference it makes is kind of mind-boggling when I think about how much time and energy I spend just making sure that I have mushrooms, hamburger, olive oil, paper towels and so on when I'm supposed to have them and in the right order with the right people. It's kind of depressing.

Certainly, it's much cheaper to live where I do––even when you factor in the $250/month I spend on gasoline. But at the same time, I wonder how much more I might accomplish if I didn't spend so much of my schedule just figuring out how to be in all the places I need to be that are not where I live and do so in the most fuel efficient way possible.

But then, it's hardly the worst situation I could imagine. I've been in countries before where the question wasn't how efficiently you could get across town; it was if you could get across town at all. Maybe someday I'll be looking back wistfully at the time when all I had to do to get potatoes was get in my own car and drive half an hour on perfectly serviceable roads and pay for them with a credit card and wonder how much I'd be able to accomplish if I only had to spend an hour a day traveling.

For the next couple days, though, I'll be enjoying only driving three minutes.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Motion Blur

This evening I found myself heading home from New York at sunset while driving at the speed limit. I would never normally be in such a ridiculous situation because, one, it's so close to the solstice that I am usually home (and likely in bed!) by the time the sun sets, and second, I usually drive so fast along the ridge road that winds up from the state line that I'd never have noticed the sunset, were it even there to be noticed. Two things, however, conspired to make it happen.

First, I had a meeting with someone from the Southern Tier Pregnancy Resource Center––only because I'm producing a video for them, naturally––and this made me late. Second, it is running season, which means the possibility of face-to-face meetings with some of my more far-flung neighbors; so while I'm quite content to have them up in arms over the autobahn-esque manner in which I blow by their houses most of the year, these few months necessitate a more diplomatic rate of travel.

So it was that I was driving south along the top of the large plateau that is Judson Hill at 8:30pm at an unusually civil pace when I looked to the east and saw this:

I rolled down my window, picked up my phone and snapped the above image. I figured the entire thing might well be just a blur––despite my seasonally reformed driving. When I reviewed it, part of it was indeed blurred, but as you can see, only the close bit. The foreground, as it were. The farther and farther out you go, the less blurry it gets. The grass further out the field is more discernibly grass. The trees at the horizon line are relatively sharp. The hills beyond are better, and infinity is perfectly in focus.

And then I thought, that's just like life, isn't it?