Optical Illusions

This is probably one of my favorite optical illusions in cinema.  It’s totally unintentional, but it shows how much context matters when interpreting a scene.

It’s a scene from the 1966 movie A Man for All Seasons, adapted from the play of the same name.  It’s about Sir Thomas More and his defiance of King Henry VIII.  It’s a great movie–well worth watching, though not for the cinematography.

Anyway, here’s the scene that I’m talking about. Look at More (the guy in the center of the shot). More specifically, look at what is on the table in front of him.

There’s always room for Jello–even in the 16th century! (Screenshot used under fair use for purpose of criticism)

When I first saw it, I thought “why does Thomas More have a green  “Jello” mold”? I was fairly confident they didn’t have those in the 16th century.

I’m pretty sure it’s actually some sort of bowl, though why he has an upside-down bowl in front of him is another question.

Categories: Humor, Movies Tags: , ,

Dumbledore is Death

...So says a new fan interpretation of the book “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”.  You know I love plot twists and alternate interpretations, so of course I think this is interesting.  J.K. Rowling even semi-endorsed it.

My alternate interpretation is that everything that happens to Potter after Voldemort kills him in the woods is imagined in the instant before he dies. (Dumbledore even says as much!)  It’s like “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”.   Dark Stuff.

Ok, so I’m just making that up to be funny. There’s actually no evidence to support it.  Still, it only goes to show you that you can make up alternate theories of anything that could possibly make for satisfying narratives.

P.M. Prescott’s “Optimus: Praetorian Guard”

Historical fiction is a difficult genre.  The writer has to try to balance accurate details of historical events with the need to maintain an interesting and well-paced dramatic story.  While history is full of dramatic incidents, the pace of history is not the pace of interpersonal events, and the great tales of history rarely can be told neatly in the way a purely fictional tale must be.

So, I have to applaud my fellow blogger P.M. Prescott for even attempting such a work with his novel, Optimus: Praetorian Guard.  The novel follows the career of a Roman soldier, Sextus Cassius Optimus, spanning roughly from the reign of Nero to the end of the Flavian Dynasty.

Optimus begins as a rough-and-tumble soldier, who craves women, wine and gambling.  However, when he is assigned to guard Paul the Apostle, he gradually is converted to the new Christian religion through talking with the prisoner, as well as his scribe, Luke.  Thereafter, Optimus changes his ways and begins to atone for many of his past misdeeds.  The second half of the book follows how Optimus and his Christian family and friends are affected by turmoil in the Roman Empire.

The protagonist is well fleshed-out, and his character arc is satisfying.  He goes from being an aggressive, almost sex-crazed man with a hot temper to a more calm, reasonable person after his religious conversion.  I especially liked when, during his turn to Christianity, he likens the spiritual and emotional discipline of the Christians to the military discipline of the Roman legions. It makes the character seem more realistic, as this really is the way a person would come to such a realization.

The biggest flaw in the novel lies, ironically, in what is probably one of Prescott’s greatest strengths: his knowledge of history. P.M. was a history teacher, and his knowledge of his subject absolutely comes through here.  The problem is, unfortunately, that this strength–absolutely indispensable for this type of book–also at times detracts from the flow of the story.  There were a few instances where there was a little too much information on things like Roman military tactics, or background information on Roman politics, that was delivered in a manner that halted the flow of the story.

I don’t envy Prescott’s challenge here–indeed, it’s almost a no-win situation for any author.  Had there been less background information, readers who have little familiarity with ancient Rome might not understand certain plot points. (For example, why one character is unable to leave her abusive husband under Roman law.) But on the other hand, when the background information is put in, it risks boring readers who came for the entertaining story, not the history lessons.

In a few places, Prescott gets around this by having the exposition lines delivered by adults explaining things to children.  This is a good device, since it makes logical sense for children to not understand everyday customs.

My only major criticism of the book would be that it might have been better to trust readers to learn some information for themselves, either from the context or else from their own research.  The occasional lengthy descriptions of Roman customs, though interesting to a historian, kill the dramatic flow.

Despite this issue, however, I very much enjoyed Optimus, and would recommend it to anyone who likes Roman history, or history in general.  My favorite scenes are the conversations Optimus has with Luke and Paul.  Prescott is not afraid to have his protagonist raise some tough theological/philosophical questions, or to have them answered in an appropriately thought-provoking manner. It’s a very interesting and compelling depiction of Christianity in its infancy, and helps give a sense of both how and why what was initially a very small offshoot of Judaism grew to have such influence.

I highly encourage my readers to check it out.  I know first-hand that writing and self-publishing a book is a very difficult undertaking, and it’s always nice to get some support and feedback.  Prescott has been a great help to me, both as a blogger and as an author, and I’d like to see his work get some well-deserved recognition.

New Cover for My Book!

The original cover was more of a placeholder–I’ve now gotten a new cover that I think captures the mood of the book much better.

SotMW

Click to see more information and to buy.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank my blogger friends for their help. So thank you, Thingy and P.M. Prescott, for reading and letting me know your thoughts.

Categories: Books, Entertainment Tags: ,

Haiku NFL Season Predictions

At last, football is (almost) back!   I love the Hall of Fame Game weekend.  Sure, the game is barely actual football, and I’ll probably tune out after the first two series, but it’s nice to start the season off with a little appreciation for the sport’s history, followed by a nice, easy re-introduction to watching football.  It would be no fun to just dive right in to the regular season right away, now would it?

Yeah, ok; maybe it would.

Anyway, it’s time once again for my annual haiku football season predictions.  I’m pretty proud of last year’s predictions, in which I correctly picked the Patriots to beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Let’s see how I do this year.

AFC East

Patriots

The Defending Champs

Make it back to the playoffs–

But lose their first game.

Bills

Loaded on defense–

But offense doesn’t seem to

Be “The Real McCoy.”

Dolphins

Improvements will make them

A wild card contender–

But can’t beat the Pats.

Jets

Rex Ryan Redux–

With a lackluster offense

And a strong defense.

AFC North

Ravens

Flacco will surprise;

And they ride his career year

To the Super Bowl.

Steelers

Changes on defense

Will be too much for loaded

“O” to overcome

Bengals

Dalton and Lewis

Get one more Sisyphean

Underwhelming year.

Browns

Can Johnny 12-step

Still be the Cleveland savior?

Wouldn’t bet on it.

AFC South

Colts

It’s just like old times–

A strong regular season

Followed by heartbreak.

Jaguars

They’ll be really bad–

Like, really, really awful–

As in, not too good.

Titans

Mariota is

The next “game changing” QB

Who crashes and burns.

Texans

Strong defensive line

Coupled with decent offense

Makes them a sleeper.

AFC West

Broncos

There’s an old man called

“Peyton Manning”. He’s still smart.

But he should retire…

Chargers

…But “Old Man Rivers”

Still has a few good years left.

Will win Division

Raiders

They say Carr is good,

But I am still skeptical

Of their playoff odds.

Chiefs

The blandest of teams

Has a chance to surprise,but

Can’t beat the Chargers.

NFC East

Cowboys

Can Dez be worth it?

If Romo can stay healthy

They’ll win division

Giants

Odell’s all the rage;

In for a sophomore slump.

Tom Coughlin’s last year.

Redskins

The name is not all

They should consider changing–

Also need new offense.

Eagles

Bradford will not last

And the Sanchez/Tebow show

Will make a comeback.

NFC North

Packers

This is the year they

Break the curse of the Seahawks.

But not the Ravens.

Bears

Crazy like a Fox–

But he can turn teams around.

Will be a fifth seed.

Vikings

Bridgewater breaks out

And they will be very good–

But not playoff good.

Lions

The wheels will fall off;

Johnson’s old, Stafford’s not great–

Back to drawing board.

NFC South

Saints

Will still be a threat

Even without Graham et. al;

But can’t beat Panthers.

Panthers

Will beat the Saints. Twice.

As I predicted above.

What more do you want?

Falcons

New coach improves them,

But won’t overtake Panthers;

Not until next year.

Buccaneers

Can Winston be good

On and off the gridiron?

Probably neither.

NFC West

Seahawks

It’s not picks that kill;

Nor the two straight scoring drives;

It’s that last, long yard.

Cardinals

With ‘Hawks hungover

Will take Division title

And win playoff game.

49ers

Need to win it all

To explain canning Harbaugh.

That will not happen.

Rams

Bills/Jets of the West:

Strong running game and defense,

But no Quarterback.

Miami Really Ruled The League…

[To the tune of “When Britain Really Ruled The Waves”, by Gilbert and Sullivan.]

Miami really ruled the league

In good Coach Shula’s reign;

They won with dominant defense,

And a run-based, ground pound offense;

And got to pop champagne.

Yes, they ran the perfect campaign

In old Coach Shula’s glorious reign!

***

When Belichick beat Martz’s Rams

And the Greatest Turf Show fell–

The Patriot receiving corps

Did nothing too spectaculor

But did it very well.

The Pats, they built a dynasty

Thanks to their strong, hard-hitting “D”.

***

And when the Bills of Buffalo

Learn from league history;

And their front office does not trade

For wide receivers overpaid

Or some has-been RB–

The Bills can be a dynasty

With good Coach Ryan’s awesome “D”!

The lyrics to the song “El Paso” make no sense.

In keeping with my criticism of the lyrics of old songs, let me talk about Marty Robbins’s 1959 country hit El Paso.  It’s about a cowboy who falls in love with a dancer named Faleena.

My love was deep for this Mexican maiden/ I was in love, but in vain I could tell 

The old “you love her, she doesn’t love you” problem, eh? Yeah, that’s no fun.  So far, a good, solid tragic tale of unrequited love.  But then, our narrator relates, one night a guy comes in and starts flirting and drinking with Faleena.  So how does our tortured love-lorn hero handle this?

So in anger I challenged his right for the love of this maiden/ Down went his hand for the gun that he wore/ My challenge was answered–in less than a heartbeat/ the handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor

Wait… so he killed the guy who, for all he knew, might well have been Faleena’s actual lover or husband?  “Challenging his right” when he himself had none?  That seems… borderline psychotic.  Ok, so it’s a crime of passion and he says he regrets it but still, it’s a bit extreme.

Having done this “foul, evil deed”, our “hero” skips town and flees to New Mexico, only to decide he can’t stand to live without Faleena, and so he rides back.  (This takes Robbins about as long to sing as it took you to read it–the song has some pacing issues here, and you’re left with the impression he rode away and then immediately turned around and rode back.)

When he returns to El Paso, the citizens are waiting for him and they shoot him as he rides back into town.  It’s unclear what length of time he’s been gone, but apparently they recognize him instantly from hundreds of yards away and are waiting to kill him.

Finally, as he lies dying, he sees Faleena, who kisses him as he dies in her arms.  (Some have suggested this is just his imagination, which would indeed be the only possible way this makes any sense. Why would she kiss the man who apparently killed her boyfriend?)

It’s a testament to how pleasant the music, and Robbins’s voice, make this song sound that it’s such a hit.  Lyrically, it’s not a love song at all, but rather a song narrated by a psychopath.

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