Friday, November 27, 2009

Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch

I think that there is a lot in this book that is worthy of attention. Since my own spiritual paradigm has changed a lot in my life, I am always open minded to hearing new perspectives. I think that Mr. Walsch has some very good insights into the nature of god, some of which I agree with, and some of which I do not. Since this is a review blog and not one focused on my own internal philosophy or musings, I shall focus first on the nature of the book itself. The entire thing is essentially a platonic (in the sense of this is a literary device used by Plato betimes in The Republic) conversation between the author and God. As a character Walsch's god is both very human and very kind and wise. He has a different perspective than most, and also have very human traits like humor, whimsy and sarcasm. For the most part, the book does an excellent job of conveying the author's philosophy and the underlying tale. The underlying tale, such as it is, isn't much, in that it is basically that the author is down on his luck and washed up, and lost in life and that he has a voice in his head that calls itself God, with whom he converses on a piece of paper by asking all of the questions that he wanted to know. Walsch's idea of god and realize are spelled out piece by piece and bit by bit in a fashion that is internally logical and intruiging.

The thing that fascinated me most about Mr. Walsch's god is that it (since it claims to be neither masculine nor feminine) is the way it is and that humanity is the one constantly attributing traits to it. This does make sense largely, since a common theme of all the major spiritual texts of humanity is exactly this; God is the way He is, not the way he wants us to be. Like any pervasive spiritual philosophy, some of the hard questions are extremely vague. For example, at one point the text implies that there is no right or wrong or good or evil and that God isn't going to judge us. At the same time, the text implies that if we're really trying to be like God, we judge ourselves and that if we're really trying to be like It, we're going to be good people anyway. The book does do a fairly good job of finding the logical holes in most monotheistic faiths, particularly that, if God is a jerk, is He really worth worshiping and is it really fitting to play games of theological riddles that we have to solve for His convenience. I should note that I do not agree with all of these philosophies, but this is skillfully narrated in the book.

Still, while I do find elements of the philosophy quite interesting, I think this book is best read (from my perspective) as a philosophical tome rather than a spiritual one. Spiritually speaking, it might connect with you, but it will probably cause just as many questions as it will answer. Philosophically, I found its insights into the question of want (ie, if quit wanting for things and instead merely hope and strive for them, a subtle but important difference) and relationships (ie think of them as an opportunity to be your best self rather than a question of what you can get out of said relationship) to be extremely insightful and interesting. I recommend reading it, but I do so suggesting that it be done with a hearty grain of salt.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Movie: The Men Who Stare At Goats

An interesting movie. Part of it is fact and part of it is fiction. The movie is based on a book by the same name written by a journalist who happened to run into some people who had actually belonged to a cutting edge army psi brigade that actually believed that they had psychic powers. I’ve only heard about the book by reputation, but I can say that the movie does an excellent job of blending the possibility that there might be something there while at the same time making you wonder if they, and all research like it, are filled with fundamental loony tubes. On the whole liked the movie. The plot is a little slow and ponderous at times, but it makes some very meaningful points. I think the moment where they are in the car with the military contractors (ala Black Water) when they cavalierly cut in line at the gas station or open fire on what they think are hostile Iraqis (who turn out to be another US contractor) shows a very good idea in three minutes what it was like for the Iraqi’s to have to live under this crap for eight years. The last twenty minutes are by far the best part of the movie though and the rest of the plot helps put it all into context. I liked it a great deal.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Movie: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is a good movie that has a lot of good messages with a few flaws. First, even for a children’s movie, it is a little bit too self aware and pretentious. When the narrator in “Winnie the Pooh” says “This is the story of” etc, it works just fine. When the narrator is a character in the movie, that can work as well. When the narrator is aware that they are the narrator and there is one, and makes side comments to the audience, they’d better be Ferris Bueler or they’re probably not going to pull it off.

Dustin Hoffman was well suited to this roll, and actually managed to play it sufficiently low key that I enjoyed the performance. I could easily see him going Jim Carrey/Grinch on this, but he didn’t. Natalie Portman was not at her best, and I like Natalie Portman. Elements of what she did were really good. Her dynamic with Mr. Magorium/Dustin went well. Her dynamic with Mutant (the accountant) went OK. The scenes with pretentious narrator kid…fell flat on their face. Pretentious narrator kid has some good scenes. He did the hat collection scene with Mutant very well. He also did a good job as ‘backbone in the background’ while Mr. Megorium was around. But the whole, “You have to save the store scene” with Natalie Portman was just nauseating. Basically, most of the dynamics in the movie worked well except those between Portman and PNK. It just…didn’t work. So much so that it made the entire movie suffer as a result of it.

The thing that the film did BEST was help a child understand death. Mr. Magorium had a very healthy attitude toward it, understanding that it was a natural part of the cycle of life. Even more impressive was the fact that he didn’t do what I thought he was going to do which was step off into neverneverland or something. Even though it didn’t show much, it quite clearly implied that he actually died, and was actually buried. The FX on the store were very good, though the whole theme was in that “Kids like a vomit of colors as much as possible” way.

On the whole, I liked this movie, despite its flaws and think that it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Once. Don’t see much rewatch value though.