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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Thanks to Kairos for the tip on this article about Shyamalan and the upcoming book (The Man Who Hear Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on A Fairy Tale). NPH went to get the book at our local bookseller the other day, but it hadn't come in yet. You can bet we'll be reading it.

The article, written by Patrick Goldstein, is part book review and part movie review. The book, he's certain, is a damining tell-all that reveals the arrogance of Hollywood's most talked about directors. For its part, the movie sucks; it's little more than a stage for Shyamalan to show off himself and to air his grievances (casting himself as a tortured writer whose work will change the world and killing off a smarmy movie critic character). So goest the article.

It's hard to take issue with the piece. Even as staunch a Shyamalan apologist as NPH feels the need to acknowledge the guy's shortcomings. But we will still champion his work and what he's trying to do with his talent, and that is to tell original, meaningful stories through film, often defying the conventions of his business. Here's a money quote from the article, an answer given by Shyamalan's agent, Jeremy Zimmer:

"I told him this [the book] was dangerous — that the press will fixate on it. But
he saw the movie with himself in it. And you know what? It's his
vision. And if the business doesn't support it, he's not going to run
away and say, 'Oh well, I'll do "Jumanji 3." ' You can say he's preachy
or self-important, but who else is telling original stories out there?
He should be applauded, not derided."

Hear hear.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:54 AM | link | 2 comments |

NPH Gets An Online Video Tutorial on The Middle East

Sunday, July 23, 2006

NPH is no expert in Middle East politics; we know next to nothing, when you consider the vast amount of history and culture that feed present day violence. But we do know a little bit more now, thanks to Current TV, Reuters, and the BBC.

If you haven't heard of it before, Current TV is Al Gore's "citizen journalism" channel. Some people have been critical of it, calling it less bottom-up, independent journalism and more MTV-esque entertainment. But NPH has subscribed to Current TV's RSS feed for several months now, and we can honestly say that we have learned things we didn't know before, things that we would not have learned by watching CNN or reading the BBC.com.

Presently there are three pieces on Current's site that merit attention. This one, a little hands-on lesson in the basics of the Katyusha rockets being fired from southern Lebanon into northern Israel; this one, a primer on the city of Beirut itself and the Hezbollah political party, filmed mostly before the current fighting broke out; and this one (by the same correspondent that did the first one), a brief synopsis of the situation from inside Israel.

Don't expect these pieces to achieve the unbiased neutrality that has eluded the mainstream media; it doesn't exist. We all speak from somewhere, and we all carry assumptions and commitments that determine how we view any situation. But that's o.k. These pieces are still worth watching.

And so is this Reuters.com video on the continuing day-to-day routine in Beirut, and this one filed from northern Israel. The BBC, for its part, has a video report from Fergal Keane, NPH's favorite journalist in the world, taken from the city of Tyre.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:37 PM | link | 0 comments |

Aint It Cool News on "Lady . . ."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"You see, this is a film that asks you to not believe in the here and now. To not step foot in reality, but to step into a writer’s hands and just let him tell you a story, where he’s making it up as he goes along and where logic has little to no place. Where you can have a character with one gigantic muscled side of his body and tells everyone that he likes being scientific. It’s goofy like that. It’s innocent.

"If you can’t just go with the story, you’ll find yourself trapped in what some will call the most pretentious ego-trip ever committed to film. The people that hate this film will compare it to the biggest disasters ever made."

Exactly. Which is why NPH can handle it. Let M. Night tell you a story, and try not to notice the sound of his thoughts. Because if you do, you won't hear anything else. And that would be sad.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:14 AM | link | 1 comments |

Slate on Shyamalan

Ross Douthat has a great piece about M. Night Shyamalan up right now. It's partly about the disappointing reception of "Lady in The Water," and partly about the soon-to-be-released book that chronicled the director's efforts to get the film made (The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale). But mostly the piece is about Shyamalan himself, his grandiose intentions and his heavily-scrutinized missteps. It's good reading. Here's a money quote:

    Shyamalan deserves credit, despite his vanity and his missteps—not
        because he's succeeding, necessarily, but because he's willing to keep
    trying and unwilling to take his place with those timid, highly
                        compensated directors who know neither victory nor defeat.

And that's why NPH will continue to champion Shyamalan and his movies. Despite the discomfiting emergence of his pretensions (note: his expanding roles in his own movies--this time as a struggling writer who's told that he will be killed for his painfully truthful ideas; also the role in "Lady . . ." of the glib film critic who's too cynical to see the real story and who, in the end, pays a heavy price for his cynicism), we still love the guy.

And "Lady in The Water" is still better than 75% of what's out there right now, and 50% of what the year will produce.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:05 AM | link | 0 comments |

M. Night, NPH Forgives You

Friday, July 21, 2006

Way back in August, NPH flapped his arms all over the place to discuss our favorite filmmaker's latest project. "Lady in The Water," the sixth full length feature by writer and director M. Night Shyamalan, was to star Paul Giamatti and "The Village" heroine Bryce Dallas Howard. It promised to be another engrossing mythical yarn, set, of course in Pennsylvania.

Well, today the waiting finally ended, and NPH took in a matinee of the long-awaited film with the wife. We promised ourselves that we weren't going to let the reviews curb our expectations of the movie, since critics weren't exactly thrilled by "The Village," which NPH still thought was pretty darned good. But still, we read a bad review in the Pitch, and we glanced at rottentomatoes.com early on Thursday. What we read created the expectation of disappointment.

And disappointed we were. A little. I mean, "Lady in The Water" is still better than most of what you'll find in your local multiplex, especially in the summer; Shyamalan could craft a compelling story from a phonebook. It's just that the things he does with this film he's done before, and done them better. There's been a great deal of buzz about Shyamalan's feud with Disney, the producer of his last five films. When Disney told him they didn't like this script (which started as a bedtime story for his children and then morphed into an illustrated children's book before finally maturing as a screenplay), Shyamalan walked and took the thing to Warner Brothers. WB was only too happy to produce it, because the Philadelphia native's movies make lots of money. Plain and simple.

NPH is no film critic, so we'll not pick apart the merits of the thing. But we do deal in story on a fairly regular basis, so our disappointment can be located there, in the story. It's too intrusive. I mean, the beauty of Shyamalan's storytelling has heretofore been his ability to tell you a different story than the one you think you're being told. There is his trademark "surprise ending," in which the screen is pulled back to reveal something about the characters that changes the whole narrative. But "Lady in The Water" doesn't do that. Instead, the story you get is exactly the story you think you're getting. And that's because, from beginning to end, you're told about the story, you're reminded of the story, you're teased by the story--you look and look and look at the story. The Lady's name is actually "Story."

Shyamalan is trying to make a case for the reality of stories for real life. It's a beautiful case to make, and every one of his films makes it. The story is about ghosts or comic heroes or aliens or monsters in the woods or the Lady in The Water. No matter what the story's subject, its effect on reality is tangible and meaningful, and, above all, purposeful. It's only that, with "The Sixth Sense" and its successors, you're tantalized by the story so that its effect is accomplished before the viewer is aware what's happened. But with "The Lady in The Water," Shyamalan has made the story the subject of the story, so that you're never unaware of the effect that the story is supposed to have on you. Ultimately, you're in control of your relationship to the story, and that's not good.

There are things in this movie that Shyamalan fans will be well used to by now: the tragic and tortured protagonist who is an agent of redemption, the idiosyncratic supporting characters who turn out to be essential in their idiosyncracies, and, of course, the drumbeat of "purpose."

Shyamalan's quest for stories about purpose is, NPH believes, his greates virtue as a filmmaker and storyteller in these aimless times. All of his films grapple with the inconsequential and cooky, people and families trying to make meaning out of seemingly senseless circumstances. They are existential pep rallies for tortured souls (and those of us who love a good tale). It's just that, with this film, "purpose" appears from the very start and never lets up; you know what you're getting from the minute, in the opening credits, when you learn that the Lady has been "sent" to accomplish something. The thing's shot through with purpose, purpose, purpose. By the midpoint you almost want to scream, "What's the purpose behind all this purpose?!"

I love M. Night Shyamalan. I will always be the first in line to see his films. I just wonder if he's started to struggle, in this film, with his own purpose as a filmmaker and yarnspinner to the culture. He seems much more conscious of his image (note the American Express ads), even going back to the ill-conceived publicity stunt that preceded "The Village." Frankly, NPH is a little worried for him.

But, wander and experiment as he will, NPH will still be here, waiting, when his next film comes out.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:30 PM | link | 0 comments |

What's This New TV Trend?

NPH has been seeing trailers for a couple of fall shows on NBC that have us downright giddy, mostly for the people involved.

First there's Tina Fey, presently the head writer and Weekend Update anchor for Saturday Night Live. She allso wrote the hit movie Mean Girls. Fey has written a new show called "30 Rock," a comedy about a television writer for NBC who has to deal with the egos of a pampered cast (fellow SNLers Tracy Morgan and Rachel Dratch) as well as the self-obsession of her producer, played by Alec Baldwin.

NPH does not, as a rule, swear allegiance to television shows. We'll be watching this one, you can bet your sweet bippy.

Next there's "Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip," a drama written by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin and starring Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford. For NPH, Whitford is the draw here. Sorkin writes stuff that is far better than anything else out there (see seasons 1-4 of West Wing), and Perry is good for a giggle, but Whitford is just too good to miss. He's sardonic, clever, and compelling; NPH thinks he single-handedly carried The West Wing through its last three seasons. "Studio 60 . . ." centers on two producers (Perry and Whitford) who are brought in to save a flailing Friday night sketch comedy show on a network called NBS.

NPH is interested in these two shows for the trend that they may foretell: television shows about television shows. And not just that, but television shows about the production of television shows, inluding the sordid lives of the producers and the politics of the networks. Both of these shows are painfully obvious representations of real shows and a real network; 30 Rock is shorthand for the universally-known address (30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan) of the NBC studio where SNL is broadcast, and "Studio 60 . . ." is a clear representation of SNL and NBC themselves.

What is this about? Is NBC trying to capitalize on the interest created by such behind-the-scenes books as Live From New York and Jay Mohr's Gasping for Airtime (both of which NPH has read and enjoyed deliriously)? Or are these shows a sort of dramatization of the reality TV trend, the next progression in tv artistry: remove the fourth wall, then put it back and build a show around its presence?

Whatever the trend indicates, NPH is going to be rushing home on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to see these shows.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:07 AM | link | 1 comments |

A Week of Breakups

Thursday, July 20, 2006

NPH has spent the week in the midst of breakups. There is the ongoing threatened breakup of the church in which we serve, with loud gesticulations coming from a renewal group as they gather at this very moment. Yesterday involved us in two breakup conversations, one with a person who said, "I think I know what I need to do," and the other with a person who said, "I don't know why she's doing this" (the two people don't know each other).

The week's soundtrack has been provided by The Submarines, "Peace and Hate," downloaded from the KCRW Today's Top Tune podcast. The song's a gem:

"Yell and shout and kick me out,
and forget what we fought about,
but don't give up--this storm is passing."


"Breaking down cannot be cured by breaking up."
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 1:38 PM | link | 1 comments |

To Kathleen Parker: An Open Letter

Friday, July 14, 2006

I'll try not to duplicate posts too much, but I wanted to put this letter both on religiononastick and here.

Dear Mrs. Parker,

As a blogger, I’m supposed to watch out for you and your ilk in the mainstream media. Folks tell me that the blogosphere functions as a sort of watchdog to the mainstream press of our country, making sure that reporters and columnists have their facts straight, the sources lined up, and their opinions, well, credible.

Consider this my free service to you.

In your column dated July 4 (”‘I Believe in Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe’”), you made a number of assertions that are incorrect. Writing about the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church last month, you state that delegates voted to “receive” a policy paper on gender, which is only partially accurate. First of all, kudos to you for nailing the verb “receive”; that one has proven elusive for others of your colleagues in describing what, exactly, the Assembly did. But I’m afraid it was a theological statement, not a policy paper, and it wasn’t about gender at all, but rather about the Trinity itself (or “himself,” if you must). Indeed, a cursory glance at the document’s title reveals this: “The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing.”

That’s more than an academic distinction. You and yours (and by yours I include columnist like Charlotte Allen) have been all-too-eager to denounce the recent assembly as just the latest example of liberal Christianity pandering to the sensitivities of modern American culture, particularly when it comes to gender. Yet the theological statement on the Trinity does not have gender as a subject. Further, if you were to search the document (or perhaps, first, read it), you would be unable to find such words as “patriarchal” or “sexist,” words that any reader of yours would expect to see running amok in the statement’s text. Indeed, the closest thing you would get to the church placating feminist-run-amok culture would be the statement, “Only creatures who have bodies can be male or female. But God is Spirit and has no body” (line 351). Or perhaps the suggestion that “Femaile imagery for the Trinity has yet to be adequately explored” (line 362).

Good for you, though; in quoting from line 347 (”Trinitarian language has been used to support the idea that God is male and men are superior to women”), you succesfully exposed one of the statement’s four uses of the word “male,” a full quarter. Only, they’re all in the same paragraph. Further, in employing the “male” designation as often as it does, the statement is a veritable parade of chauvanism; “female” only appears twice (snicker with me, will you, at the realization that these goddess lovers have inadvertently reinforced sexism).

Ahem. Straightening up, then.

This will surely come as a disappointment to you. Lapsed adherents of any religion must have something with which to defend their lapse, and for American conservatives that something is most easily the culturally accomdating liberalism of the mainline denominations. The discovery, then, that the document is a serious work of Trinitarian Christian theology must take the wind out of your sails a bit.

But take hope. Because surely these Presbyterians are not able to discuss theology without stumbling into relativism and cultural minutae. As you say, “Irony seems to have gone missing as we worship our wombs and swoon over lost goddesses.” So, like affected snobs tinkering with dynamite, the drafters of the statement were sure to blow themselves up by yanking the wires of traditional doctrine.

Only, they didn’t do that either. In fact, they buried the wires of traditional doctrine deeper than ever, mandating that the hopelessly patri–oh, you know–”Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is the only acceptable triad for invoking God in the sacrament of Baptism. I would expect that someone who so admires the sturdy immobility of the Catholic Church would appreciate such a move.

I hope this clarification reduces your obvious stress at the perceived flushing of traditional Christianity down the toilet of “whatever.” Unfortunately, if I’ve misread your reaction, if what I take for stress in your prose is actually glibness or self-satisfied piety, then I’m afraid I can’t help you. Only, perhaps, read the document.


Not Prince Hamlet

Blogger, Presbyterian Minister


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:21 PM | link | 1 comments |

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The French Have Never Been This Funny

Just goes to show that the French can poke a little fun at their own, even in defeat. NPH is proud to say that we know the song used in the video, because we're married to a French-reared superstar. So there.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:02 AM | link | 0 comments |

Marco I-think-you're-an-idiot Materazzi

The player who got head-butted by Zinedine Zidane in the World Cup final has admitted to insulting him. Yesterday must have produced six different versions of what it was that Materazzi said to the Frenchman, ranging from "Terrorist" to "I'd rather have your wife's shirt." It's all speculation, because Zidane's not talking. Good for him.

But today Materazzi is talking. A little. "I did insult him, it's true," Materazzi said. "But I categorically did not call him a terrorist. I'm not cultured and I don't even know what an Islamic terrorist is."

Uh, excuse me? Materazzi doesn't know what an Islamic terrorist is? And he attributes that to his lack of culture?

That kind of fib is an insult to thinking people everywhere.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:54 AM | link | 0 comments |

NPH's New Blogging Venture

Always stimulating, ever thoughtful, Landon has invited NPH to participate in a new group blogging experiment called religiononastick.com. Landon's idea for the blog is tacked onto the front page "We are a group of young adult, mostly mainline Christians reflecting on
the role of religion in our personal, social, and public life."

There you have it. Enjoy it, whatever it becomes.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:20 AM | link | 0 comments |

Unity 08

Monday, July 10, 2006

NPH is no politico. Granted, we'd sooner watch an episode of the West Wing than eat, and, granted, we signed a petition on Friday night to put a Green Party candidate on the Missouri ballot, and, finally, granted, our car dashboard is peppered with "I Voted" stickers: NPH is no politico.

So NPH would like our readers to know about Unity 08, an online drive to nominate a third party candidate for President in 2008 using an entirely online convention.

We signed the "Declaration of Independence from Politics without Purpose." You should too.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:43 AM | link | 3 comments |

Zinedine I'm-freaking-crazy-Zidane

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The World Cup is over, and NPH is sad. We're sad for the losers, France. We're sad for the French star, Zidane, who lost his head in the overtime period and headbutted an Italian player and thus got sent off. He missed the penalty shootout, and he wasn't even a part of the medal ceremony. And that's how his great career ends.

 We're sad for the wife, who is nearly in tears over the French defeat.

But mostly we're just sad that it's over. I don't care how American you are, how much baseball or football or Nascar you watch, the World Cup is the greatest sporting event in the world. Now that it's over, I sort of feel like a 10 year old when the amusement park closes.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:44 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Royals Are Suite

NPH is lucky to have cool friends. Because having cool friends means that sometimes you get to do things with your cool friends' cool friends. Case in point: last night NPH and the wife got invited to attend a Royals game and sit in the Fred Patek suite. Our cool friends (pictured right) have cool friends who work within the Royals organization and who hooked about 10 people up with seats in the suite.

I've been to a lot of Royals game in my time, and this experience was one the coolest. The suite is right next to the press box, so you essentially have a press box view of the game. Not to mention the ginormous bowls of peanuts and popcorn, the free hot dogs and soda and beer--it was awesome. Thanks cool friends, and thanks cool friends of our cool friends. It it's ok, NPH would like to call you guys our cool friends too.

Click here to see compelling video (registration required) from the game. The cool part's at the end.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:26 PM | link | 1 comments |

David Buttrick and Situational Preaching

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Tomorrow NPH will preach about "Freedom." In what could be called a hasty move, we advised the church worship team to designate a certain number of themed worsip services that would be aimed at guests, guests we would intentionally invite over a number of weeks. Last December was our first, a "Lessons and Carols" service during the second week of Advent. Tomorrow is our second. We've called it "Freedom Sunday," and have invited scores of guests to come.

So here's NPH's quandry: to preach to a congregation made up of well-known congregants and totally unknown guests . Give me one or the other. I can preach to people who I don't assume to believe what I'm saying, or I can preach to people who I do assume believe what I'm saying; preaching to both at the same time is tricky.

So I have resorted to that master homiletician, David Buttrick, whose Homiletic I think is an invaluable tool for preachers. The book has two whole chapters on "Preaching and Praxis," that is, preaching from situations and not from texts. What Buttrick lays out is a process for describing a situation as it is today (say the problem of media violence), then re-reading that situation and challenging it through a Christian consciousness. It involves bringing the gospel to bear on the situation and then recommending a new understanding of it as well as a new way of living in light of the new situation. Clear enough, right?

Well, the challenge NPH has is describing "Freedom" as a situation. My intent is to describe the situation of "freedom in 21st century America" by pointing out all of the things we are free to do, the way that freedom is so deeply ingrained in our self-understanding. Then I want to challenge that description of freedom with a little Bob Dylan "Everybody's gotta bow down sometime" kind of thinking. In other words, we're not as free as we think we are, because we all serve something, whether we acknowledge it or not (if I hadn't used it last week, I would drop the G.K. Chesterton quote about the world being made up of two kinds of people: "those who accept dogma and know it, and those who accept dogma and don't know it.") The we'll bring the gospel to bear on the situation of freedom in 21st century America. Using The Theological Dictionary of The New Testament, we're going to come with a little bit of Pauline true-freedom-is-freedom-from-yourself. That's right, we're going to drop the New Testament claim that no individual is free apart from the knowledge of Jesus, because only through Jesus do we see what truly human freedom and truly divine freedom really is--a giving of one's self for another. The gospel claims that real freedom is had by laying down your own claim to yourself and accepting God's claim on you in Jesus.

It works well enough as a paragraph; now if I can flesh it out into a real sermon, that'll be great. Wish me luck!


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:56 PM | link | 0 comments |

out of the box

NPH really likes Douglas Rushkoff. We're read "Coersion," and his new book, "Get Back in The Box," and we've viewed and re-viewed his Frontline documentaries "The Merchants of Cool" and "The Persuaders." NPH posted a comment on his blog and got a response; we even got an email from him.
So NPH is happy to share this brief excerpt from a Rushkoff lecture. Enjoy.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:49 AM | link | 0 comments |


Friday, July 07, 2006

The lunch with the colleague was splendid. As I had already discovered, the colleague is a delightful person with a heart for ministry. That he occupies a place further to the right than myself when it comes to issues of church controversy doesn't alter the fact that he cares deeply for people and earnestly wants to do the right thing.

We talked for nearly three hours. He ended up by saying that he could see why a colleague like myself would have been offended by the ad, and that such a concern never entered into the decision to sign it. For my part, I ended up being able to say that I could see, and would defend, my colleague's right to sign it.

The whole thing was a test of the oft repeated maxim that "people of good faith my disagree on non-essential issues."
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:33 AM | link | 0 comments |

For Chris

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I'm Sorry. I'm so freaking sorry.

NPH is a bad blogger, one who writes in spurts about specific subjects in which I take an immediate interest. Blogging is, for me, a diversion. It's a way to write and think about things that are not immediately related to the day-to-day work of being a pastor of a small church in the Heartland. So, as my drive for my church-work goes, inversely goes my drive to blog, and vice versa. This has been a busy church week.

But here's something to chew on: NPH is having lunch in about 20 minutes with one of the colleagues behind the paid advertisement that so upset me a couple of weeks ago. In the immediate aftermath of the ad, I ripped off a hasty email to said colleague expressing my disappointment and desire for an explanation. Today's the day I get it. I have to admit, I feel a bit the fool for my poorly-written complaint to my colleague, and I'm hoping they don't hold me to account for it.

Sometimes I'm a drama queen. But, then, I was pretty perturbed, and for good reason.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:15 AM | link | 1 comments |