Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Movie Review: The Intern - Everything Old Is New Again

My hubby and I finally got around to watching a movie released in 2015, The Intern, starring Robert DeNiro as Ben, a 70-year-old widower finding retirement unsatisfying and Anne Hathaway as Jules, the hard-charging founder of an online clothing site. Through a senior internship program, Ben is assigned to Jules, who is not at all interested in this social experiment.

What I enjoyed most about this movie is the depiction of class, dignity, and old-school work ethic aiding the Fish-out-of water  to swim elegantly in his new ocean. Ben's ignorance of technology is more than compensated for by his work and life experiences. We see a group of millenials being mentored as well as the baby-boomer happily embracing lifelong learning.

My husband noted how much we need wise older men/women and , regrettably, how often age does not equal wisdom. As I'm in my 50s, the comment prompted me to pause and assess what wisdom I could bring to my younger friends and what foolish tendencies I need to purge. I was reminded of Paul's exhortation to young pastor Titus:
     But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things - that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.
     Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you
. [Titus 2:2-8 NKJV]
The movie has a definite feminist sensibility (which made the resolution rather puzzling to me). DeNiro plays an old-school gentleman that current generations of emales would love to see reemerge. What's particularly interesting is Jules scornful evaluation of the men of her generation:
Nobody calls men "men" anymore. Have you noticed? Women went from "girls" to "women." Men went from "Men" to "boys"? This is a problem in the big picture. Do you know what I mean?...How, in one generation, have men gone from guys like Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to...[looks at her male friends]...take Ben here. A dying breed. You know? Look and learn, boys. Because if you ask me, this is what cool is.
Our protagonist finds herself longing for the very old-school masculinity her feminism has helped to erode.  The Law of Unintended Consequences. The character of Ben really is charming; he is a true gentleman. [Note: Masculinity should never be confused with its cheap imitator machismo.]

Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway have wonderful chemistry. The secondary characters are believable and actually somewhat developed considering their limited screen tie.

Writer/director Nancy Meyer's The Holiday is watched every December in our house.  With The Intern, Meyers has added another movie to my favorites list.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Crazy for Cozy Mysteries

When it comes to fiction, my hubby says I don't read books as much as I devour them! With my current job, I often have an hour or two to read, albeit with lots of background noise. Thankfully, I  discovered the Cozy Mystery genre.

Usually written as a series, in a cozy mystery the sleuth is typically an intelligent, observant woman whose business finds her in various locations where a mysterious death occurs. The cast of characters are family, neighbors, friends, and other business owners in a small town and recur in each of the books. [Think: Murder, She Wrote or Nancy Drew] These are fun books I can usually finish off in two to three hours. Cozy mysteries typically also feature a romance and very little, if any, objectionable material. When purchased as an eBook, they are also very affordable. I have gotten books on eBook promotional sites for free or under $1, but usually they are under $10 and often under $5.

Nancy Drew's The Mysterious Mansion taught me about Persian rugs. I was introduced to falconry in the Hardy Boys' The Hooded Hawk Mystery. Cozy mysteries continue this education by offering up tidbits pertaining to the heroine's line or work or interest and sometimes offer recipes as well.  Here are some of my favorite series:

Raine Stockton Dog Mysteries by Donna Ball
     The first cozy series I read and probably still my favorite. Raine Stockton, formerly with Search and Rescue, finds herself investigating mysteries in her small North Carolina community located in the heart of the Smoky Mountains while navigating a complicated love life.
     I'm a dog lover and what I appreciate the most about Ball's writing is the way she captures the personality of animals. Cisco and the other canines are characters, while never being more than dogs.  Another plus: Balls writes like she has actually been to North Carolina and knows Southerners! Her books don't pile on southern stereotype. As a southerner myself, I recognize the traits and tendencies of her characters. As a side benefit, each book contains within the story helpful dog training tips.
     [While not mysteries, another charming series by Ms. Ball is the Lady Bug Farm books and the accompanying Hummingbird House books. These books feature well-developed characters and uplifting stories.]

Tourist Trap Mysteries by Lynn Cahoon
     Jill Gardner relocates to South Cove, California and opens Coffee, Books, and More. She is the business community liaison to the city council, which often puts her at odds with her nemesis, the major. Along with this and selling books, Jill gets involved in solving murders much to the dismay of her police officer boyfriend.
     This is a very close second to the Raine Stockton series. I read these books as much to catch up on the goings on in South Cove as for the mysteries.

Caprice De Luca Home Staging Mysteries by Karen Rose Smith
     Caprice De Luca is an aficionada of all things vintage and the owner of a home-staging business. The De Lucas are a tight-knit family and Caprice's siblings and other family members always play a role in the stories. This series is set in Pennsylvania.
     I'm not as big a fan of  the author's writing style as I am of the above authors, but Smith's stories have a wonderful sweetness to them. I have come to care about the De Lucas and look forward to a return visit with them in each book. As an added bonus, each book features recipes.

Caught Dead in Wyoming by Patricia McLinn
     Former big-time TV journalist Elizabeth "E.M." Danniher finds herself doing consumer protection stories for podunk KWMT-TV in Sherman, Wyoming after a messy breakup with her vindictive ex-husband, a powerful news executive. In between her "Helping Out!" segments, she finds herself investigating murders and juggling love interests while learning the ways of the West.
     After I finished the first book of the series, I quickly downloaded the other three and had read all four books within a week. This series caught my imagination and the characters won me over quickly. I am rooting for E. M. Danniher to get the best of her station's pompous anchor (a written version of Ted Baxter from the old Mary Tyler Moore series).

Mainely Needlepoint Mysteries by Lea Wait
     Angie Curtis returns to her hometown after her long-vanished mother's body is found.Another murder is tied to her mother's case and soon Angie is stitching together clues while working with the Mainely Needlepointers in her needlework business.  Set in the fictional mid-coastal town of Haven Harbor, Maine, the books' location is very picturesque. Plenty of needlework history and tidbits are woven into each story.

Hampton Home & Gardens Mysteries by Kathleen Bridge
     After a rough breakup with her fiance, Meg Barrett flees glamorous Manhattan and her job at a top home and garden magazine to the small to the small town of Montauk on the outskirts of the tony communities of the Hamptons where she begins Cottages by the Sea, an interior design business.  She soon finds herself in the middle of murder mysteries among the rich and famous.
     This new series (two books as of this writing) captured my attention quickly and I finished both books in short order, which means I now must twiddle my thumbs impatiently while waiting for the next entry.  Meg Barrett and her cohorts are fun characters and the location is intriguing. The books include interior design tips and recipes.

These are my favorite cozy series, but I'm always open to suggestions for new ones!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Subtle Danger of Me Before You

Her text read something like this: "Please read this book! I'm dying for someone to discuss it with." So at my friend Rose's urging, I was off to obtain a copy of the wildly popular Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Because the film version is opening this summer, I moved it to the top of my long, long, long to-read stack of books.

If you haven't read the book: READ NO FURTHER. SPOILERS AHEAD.

The book opens like a typical romance novel. We are introduced to Will Trayner, a strong virile man with implied serious wealth, enjoying the morning after with his equal female specimen of perfection. However as the Prologue ends, we know this is no typical romance novel.

We next make the acquaintance of Louisa "Lou" Clark, she of eccentric fashion sense and newly joined to the ranks of the unemployed. Lou's family is somewhat dependent upon her wages, although curiously not all that supportive or edifying of her. It is this need for money and her limited job prospects that sends Lou to Granta House, the stately home of Will, who is now a quadriplegic requiring constant care following an accident. We discover Will lives in the home's annex, a visual picture of his diminished life. With no discernible skills pertinent to the job (or so the reader thinks), Lou is hired.

An unlikely friendship develops between these two disparate characters and one might assume a new spin on the Romeo and Juliet story is about to unfold until the plot twist is revealed. Will has attempted suicide in the past and still has this intention. Lou's contract is for six months, not as a trial basis, but because that's the delay Will promised his parents before carrying out his plans. Upon learning of this, Lou first resigns before being begged to stay by Will's mom.  Mrs. Trayner has seen the difference Lou is making in Will and pleads with her to find a way to change his mind. Thus begins Louisa Clark's mission to give Will a reason to live. Along the way, as we already suspected, the friendship deepens and Lou falls in love.

There will be no happily ever after ending. Will Trayner flies to Switzerland to a hospital that provides assisted suicide services. After initially walking away from Will devastated, Lou comes to terms with his decision and at the last minute joins him there to say goodbye. When Lou's mother learns of this, she is appalled by her daughter's decision:
It is not my decision, Mum. It's Will's. The whole point is to support Will.
Support Will? I've never heard such rubbish. You're a child, Louisa. You've seen nothing, done nothing. And you have no idea what this is going to do to you. How in God's name will you ever be able to sleep at night? You'd be helping a man to die. Do you really understand that? You'd be helping Will, that lovely, clever young man, to die.
When Louisa doesn't change her mind, the scene continues with:
If you go, Louisa, you needn't come back.
The words fell out of her mouth like pebbles. I looked at my mother in shock. Her gaze was unyielding. It tensed as she watched for my reaction. It was as if a wall I had never known was there had sprung up between us.
I mean it. This is no better than murder.
Louisa's father and sister try to intervene and plead Lou's case, but her mother is unmoved. This is the exact moment Moyes lost me.

Don't misunderstand - I finished the book, going through a box of tissues in the process. This is a well-written, page turner with characters you grow to care about. And there's the problem.

Assisted suicide sounds so noble. Choosing how to end one's life in light of suffering or, in the case of this fictional character, life-altering injuries. We are heartless if we stand opposed to this choice. Or are we?

Will Trayner, a man with seemingly unlimited means and a high degree of intelligence, chooses to die rather than live a life disabled. His disability has rendered his life meaningless. He can't handle being dependent on others, not scaling mountaintops, or the inability to do all the other things in his previous active life. Louisa's mother opposes Will's choice, so of course, she's wrong. The whole second half of the book builds to the reader's coming to acceptance (and endorsement?) of his suicide. Why can't Louisa's mother see this?  Heck, Louisa is going to travel and be wealthy as a result of his death! Even Will's mother comes to terms with it. By opposing the book's hero and heroine, it is implicit we are to see Louisa's mother as wrong. But she's not wrong; she's principled. And she sees Will as he is - a selfish coward.

Murder is wrong, including self murder. One reviewer called this "tragedy porn," which I found to be very insightful. The book subtly tries to persuade you Will's disabled life is not worth living. His life had setbacks, serious setbacks, and so now he doesn't want it. He has an attractive woman in love with him, a supportive family, means to accommodate his limitations so he can still be active in different ways, but that's not enough. He can't have the life he had, the life he wants, so he's going to end the life he does have.

As a Christian, I believe when the Lord's providence for our life is hard and painful, we still must cling to the promise it is for our good and His glory. We must insist the disabled person has worth. We must insist suffering has worth. Caregivers bless and are blessed. If we still draw breath, we still have purpose. My husband and I  have each cared for a dying parent. It is painful, frustrating, exhausting, and emotionally wrenching, but after their deaths we each were richer. The experience taught us things we wouldn't, or perhaps couldn't, have learned otherwise. Our parents' suffering had purpose.

The book's ending sends the wrong message about how to measure a person's quality of life, a life's worth, what love is, and the possibility of overcoming obstacles and challenges to live a fulfilled, if altered, life. The ending didn't just make me sad; it made me angry. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Honest Confessions

I've written before about how every church has a liturgy, a pattern, for worship. In my church, part of this liturgy is a corporate confession of sin. It is a responsive, that is participatory, part of worship. It looks something like this:

Leader:     If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

Leader:     Let us pray.

All:     Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we have sinned against You and against our fellow men, in thought and word and deed, in the evil we have done and in the good we have not done, through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault. We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may serve You in newness of life in the glory of Your Name. Amen.

I did not grow up reciting written prayers and when I first encountered them in a worship service, I was somewhat taken aback. It was pointed out to me that were I to speak with the President, visiting royalty, or some other notable figure of great importance, I would probably have a speech prepared or at least a series of talking points to ensure my part of the encounter was coherent. Why then shouldn't we prepare our words for the Almighty God in the same manner? That explanation resonated with me to the point that I now often write out prayers in a journal as a means of truly shaping my words so they express properly my praise, thanksgiving, and requests.

Another benefit of having a prepared corporate prayer of confession is I am confronted about sinful habits or tendencies I might, if left on my own, gloss over or even ignore. Such is the case with the above confession: ". . . through our own deliberate fault." Ouch. If we're honest, don't we all like to excuse away our sin? It was a mistake, a misunderstanding, the result of incorrect information or some other reason that gives us an out from some or all the responsibility for our failings. A written confession makes us admit there were times when we sinned deliberately. It is very reminiscent of David's confession written in the psalms. The gut-level honest confession and the familial tone of a son to his Father of this psalm makes it precious to Christians:

Have mercy upon me, O God,According to Your lovingkindess;According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,Blot out my transgressions.Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,And cleanse me from my sin.For I acknowledge my transgressions,And my sin is always before me.Against You, You only, have I sinned,And done this evil in Your sight - That You may be found just when You speak,And blameless when You judge.~ Psalm 51:1-4

David was far from perfect, but he didn't let sin remain between him and God. We know from Scripture God affirms David as a man after His own heart. Our corporate confession also ends with an affirmation:

Leader:     Lift up your hearts and receive the sure promise of the gospel.  The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and great in mercy. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." To all who believe and repent, this promise is most surely given. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

That's the beauty of confession; through Jesus we have been made clean and affirmed as loved by our Heavenly Father.