The Juice Bar

My muses, thoughts, ideas, and whatever

Thursday, November 30, 2006


It's the end of November, and yes, I did write 50,000 words for Nanowrimo! It's a new draft of a novel I started last year. This time around, I concentrated more on character development rather than plot, for which I worked out a basic outline. The novel is a humorous look about a preacher's kid who backslides from his faith when he goes to college, and he falls in with a crowd of cynical hipsters. He eventually learns the error of his ways, and the only other thing I can tell you about the novel without giving too much away is the title, "Monkey's Uncle". So monkeys are involved in the plot. Feel free to come up with your own conclusions. I will say that the monkeys in my novel don't fling stuff at each other.

Also, today in St. Louis we had an ice storm. Freezing rain and sleet fell all day long. There are two to three inches of sleet accumulated on my lawn. Not snow, but sleet. That's weird. And to top it all off, we're supposed to have snow overnight. Looking out my front door, it's eerie outside. Nobody is out and about. No cars are going up and down my street because it's covered with ice. It's a really strange feeling. I did catch up on seeing a couple of DVDs I've been meaning to get around to watching, and I drank Hot Chocolate. So I guess being iced in isn't too bad. At least until I have to drive somewhere, yikes!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

SLIFF 2006

This November, I had a chance to see some films in the St. Louis International Film Festival, which was held from November 9th through the 19th. I can say I enjoyed it a great deal. I didn't get a chance to catch some of the films I originally intended to see, but I caught five very good ones and a collection of shorts as well. Here is my post-fest report, some thoughts about these films:

Son of Man

A reimagining of the life of Jesus, put into the context of contemporary South African society. Here, instead of walking among the people of ancient Galilee two thousand years ago, Jesus comes to earth as a black man in present-day South Africa. He calls disciples, both men and women, from the black South African working class. The film traces Jesus's life through the familiar miracles of the New Testament, and then the crucifixion and resurrection, yet the events are reinterpreted in this modern context, and Jesus in this film is portrayed him as a political freedom fighter.

At first, this kind of politicizing of Jesus' ministry made me a little uncomfortable. To me, a true-blue American conservative Evangelical, I was reminded of the tactics of some liberal theologians who would use the politics to discounting his divine mission to atone for the sins of people by offering himself as a sacrifice on the cross. However, I realized that I have to look at this film through the eyes of the intended audience. I cannot put myself into the shoes of a South African who grew up in the shadow of Apartheid and have vivid memories of violent struggle. This film may be the thing that brings Jesus off of a page in a book, and makes the Savior real to them, illustrating his mission and his love in the only way they can understand.

This film does illustrate that Jesus' mission did had a political component, one that isn't often acknowledged by the American church. The Pharisees represented an oppressive religious system that burned the people with extra-Biblical rules and legalism. Jesus made revolutionary statements to the Pharisees, calling them whitewashed tombs. As far as overturning the oppressive Roman government, Jesus was again revolutionary, just not in the way people expected. His revolution occurred in the human heart, not in a government capital. That was perhaps his most revolutionary act of all. So, I can appreciate what this film does. It turns our expectations of a Bible film and turns it on his head. And that is truly revolutionary.

In any event, the film is very well done. The music is joyful and the colors are vibrant. Some of the most striking images are expressed through art, depicting Jesus¹ miracles in murals painted on the sides of buildings.
It brings beauty in the midst of urban decay. And the final shot, the resurrection, is the most striking image I've seen on a movie screen all year. All in all, I recommend this film as a way to show the story of Jesus in an imaginative new way.

Shorts - St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase

I also got a chance to catch a series of short films by St. Louis directors.
They were pretty good in a mix of genres: comedy, romance, drama. My favorites were "The Nightly Potato", a CGI satire of cable news and of the Westminster Dog Show, and "50 Miles to Vegas," about a man on an automobile trip through the desert who daydreams of running off with a beautiful woman.

Tapestry of Shadows

This is a locally-produced film about a preacher in a middle-class urban neighborhood who is forced to confront the reality of gang violence when a little girl is killed by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting. The film is based on a play, and the pacing of the film and the acting are very stagey. However, the film looks professionally done, and the film builds to a powerful conclusion. The film is authentic to it's urban setting without relying on either cheap "conversions" nor "street" clichés. It isn't quite as good as Steve Taylor's "The Second Chance," but it is better than most other "Christian" films I've seen, and I'm glad I saw it. At the screening, it was neat to see the director and most of the film's cast in attendance, and seeing them answer questions from the audience.

Flowers of St. Francis

A classic film from Roberto Rossellini, which is a series of vignettes of St. Francis of Assist and a band of monks he travels with in the Italian countryside. I found the film quite delightful. I liked the humor throughout, and how the film captures the simplicity and struggles of the saints' daily lives. The scene with St. Francis and the Leper was powerful in its simple portrayal of showing love to an outcast, and in having to cry out for help from God due to the limits of one's own efforts. I most liked the scenes with Ginepro, who is a joy to watch. He may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, as when he involves an unwilling pig into his works of charity. But his good-naturedness is infectious. The simple portrayal of saints quietly doing their Christian duty illustrates God's love, in that it's the simple things of life, and in our interactions with each other, that show the beauty of faith.

Citizen Dog

A Thai musical romantic comedy about a shy city boy and sardine-cannery worker, who falls for a maid who is obsessed with a white book written in a language she can¹t understand. The visual and narrative style and quirky characters are very derivate of Jean Pierre Jeunet's Amelie. However, while the cutie-pie whimsy of that film got to be too much to bear after a while, Citizen Dog tempers its sweetness with surrealism and black comedy, involving workers swapping fingers, overbearing grandmothers who reincarnated as the faces of lizards, and a chain-smoking teddy bear who appears to have taken etiquette lessons from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. This film is a trip to watch and a lot of fun. This is the kind of film I wish Terry Gilliam still made.

The Aura

An Argentian film from the director of Nine Queens. This is about a shy taxidermist who seems fascinated with crime and visualizes how to pull off the perfect one. For example, in an early scene in the film, he visits a bank and speculates how to rob it. One day on a hunting trip in the woods, he gets his chance at the real thing when he accidentally kills a man, and finds evidence that the man was planning a robbery of armored cash-carrying trucks. However, in addition to showing both a lack of emotion and morality, this character also suffers from another flaw, epilepsy. He occasionally suffers seizers that cause him to enter a surrealistic emotional state called an "Aura" before he blacks out.

The pace of the film is slow and meditative, and the director uses silence and music very effectively. It hearkens more toward classic film noir rather than a typical Hollywood suspense flick, and the patient viewer is rewarded with a film that functions with both a clever plot and a character study. If this film is ever released in an art-house theater run in the U.S., it is well worth checking out.

Friday, November 10, 2006


I have been busy this month with Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month. This is when a bunch of insane wanna-be writers try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I did it last year, 54,000 words. It wasn't quite a complete novel, but this year, I'm rewriting and rethinking my novel idea from last year. Hopefully it will be better this year, and an at least mildly amusing humorous work. It's not sci-fi, but monkeys may be involved in the plot. When it is published and becomes a best-seller, I'll post an update here. :)