Friday, December 28, 2007

DVD Review: Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition

Long before he became known to American audiences as William Wilberforce (in Amazing Grace) or Reed Richards (in Fantastic Four), Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd made an indelible impression as Horatio Hornblower in the A&E movie series. For the first time, all eight movies are available on DVD in Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition.

Based on C. S. Forrester's novels, the films trace the career of Horatio Hornblower, a young sailor in the British Navy who finds himself thrust into the middle of the battles of the Napoleonic War. The films, like the books, trace Hornblower's amazing career from Midshipman to Commander.

Although these were made-for-television films, each one reflects outstanding and lavish production values that leaves the viewer believing that they could have been major motion pictures. No expense was spared in the production of these films.

The casting of Gruffudd, who was largely unknown at the time, was nothing short of sheer genius. Gruffudd captures the essence of Hornblower's character: a young idealist who is very green and somewhat naive in the first movie and grows and matures over the course of the eight installments. Gruffudd portrays Hornblower as a true, if not somewhat flawed, hero. He is a hero to be admired but also to learn from. His strong sense of morals and duty are refreshing and greatly needed today.

The supporting cast is also outstanding and rounds out the wide array of characters that we grow attached to over the course of the films. Robert Lindsey, a legend from British stage and film, is Sir Edward Pellew, Hornblower's commander and mentor. Jamie Bamber (Band of Brothers) adds a wonderful dimension to the films as Hornblower's best friend and shipmate Archie Kennedy. Paul Copley (Matthews) and Sean Gilder (Styles) are two fellow crewmen who fight side-by-side with Hornblower and it is through them we see the growing respect that Hornblower receives from his fellow sailors through the progression of the story.

This DVD set is also jam-packed with bonus features including a behind-the-scenes featurette about the production of the film; an interview with Ioan Gruffudd; a profile of English warships; and much, much more.

We watched all eight films together as a family and thoroughly enjoyed them. There are some disturbing images (war footage) but the violence of the battles is not overly graphic. There is also brief language but overall they still make appropriate viewing for families with older children. In addition, the overall themes of duty and honor make these films must viewing.

Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition is available from the A&E Store.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who recently returned to Pakistan to run for Prime Minister in next week's election, was assassinated this morning:
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — Pakistan's paramilitary forces were on red alert Thursday following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

The former prime minister was murdered by an attacker who shot her in the neck and chest after a campaign rally and then blew himself up. Her death stoked new chaos across the nuclear-armed nation, an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

At least 20 others were also killed in the homicide bombing that immediately followed Bhutto's shooting.

Bhutto's supporters erupted in anger and grief after her killing, attacking police and burning tires and election campaign posters in several cities. At the hospital where she died, some smashed glass and wailed, chanting slogans against President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf blamed Islamic extremists for Bhutto's death and said he would redouble his efforts to fight them.

"This is the work of those terrorists with whom we are engaged in war," he said in a nationally televised speech. "I have been saying that the nation faces the greatest threats from these terrorists. ... We will not rest until we eliminate these terrorists and root them out."

In the U.S., President Bush strongly condemned the attack "by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy."

Terrorism, which had been downplayed as an issue in the current presidential campaign, has once again come to the forefront and candidates are naturally scrambling to respond.

But the bigger concern is what's next for Pakistan. Do elections go forward as planned or does President Musharraf declare a state of emergency again and postpone the elections? Given the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear nation, their stability is of prime importance if there is to be any hope of peace in the Middle East.

Benazir Bhutto will be remembered for her courage as she returned to Pakistan knowing there was a very good chance that she would be assassinated. She was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice - her life - in order to give her country a chance to move towards a more stable democracy. It will be up to President Musharraf and the other leaders of Pakistan to determine whether Ms. Bhutto's dream will become a reality.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Recent Reviews At Blogcritics

Here's a roundup of my recent reviews for Blogcritics:

DVD Review: National Treasure - Two-Disc Collectors Edition

The action-packed adventure is back with more bonus features to enhance the
viewing experience of this first-rate film.

Book Review: Monopoly - The World's Most Famous Game -- And How It Got That Way by
Philip Orbanes

A masterful tale with a special spotlight on the inventors, game publishers, and business executives who helped give Monopoly a unique place in our culture.

Book/Music Review: Clapton: The Autobiography and Complete Clapton

No doubt fans of Clapton will enjoy reading about the musical influences that shaped his career.

CD Review: Jars of Clay - Christmas Songs

After selling millions of albums, Jars of Clay finally records their own Christmas album. But will it be a holiday classic?

DVD Review: The Wild Wild West - Season Three

Secret agents James West and Artemus Gordon return for a whole new series of adventures in The Wild Wild West Season Three.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

DVD Review: Biography - Jane Austen

Jane Austen is easily the most widely read and widely published author of all time. Her six novels (Emma, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility) have sold hundreds of millions of copies and have been adapted for film and television numerous times. But who was the woman behind what have been called the greatest novels of all time?

We recently picked up the A&E Biography episode on Jane Austen in the hopes that we could find out more about her and what inspired her to write such marvelous stories. While the program did offer a little more insight into her life story, it really focused more on her novels that Austen herself.

Part of the reason that biographical information is so sketchy is that it was not until after her death in 1817 that Austen was identified as the author of her books. During her lifetime, writing was not seen as a fit occupation for a woman and so she published all of her books anonymously.

What little is known about Austen's personality is best reflected in her letters. But as the program points out, most of her letters were destroyed by her sister Cassandra. Still enough of them survived (and a few are excerpted during the program) that we get a sense of her wit and keen observations of society around her.

The program also touches on her two romances. While we were familiar with her relationship with Tom Lefroy (which is dealt with at length in the wonderful movie Becoming Jane) we were less familiar her second relationship that resulted in a marriage proposal from Harris Bigwither. He proposed to her in 1802 when she was 27. Although she initially accepted the offer she broke the engagement the next day after having second thoughts. She would never become involved in another romantic relationship again.

The program goes on to show the wide impact that Austen's novels have had and continue to have on readers all around the world. Nearly 200 years after her death, readers of all ages and backgrounds continue to enjoy her works. This episode of Biography shows that Austen continues to have an impact far beyond what she could have ever imagined.

Biography: Jane Austen is available on DVD from A&E Networks.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Huckabee Gets It Right With Christmas Ad

With the compressed primary season this year and the Iowa Caucuses on the heels of the holidays on January 3rd, there has definitely been a challenged to presidential candidates how to make their appeals to voters and still maintain the holiday spirit. Mike Huckabee gets it right by focusing on the true meaning of Christmas in his ad:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Homeschoolers Help Huckabee In Iowa

Homeschoolers in Iowa are one of the reasons Mike Huckabee is doing so well according to a front page story in today's Washington Post:

ELDORA, Iowa -- Julie Roe, an early believer in Mike Huckabee, worked with
what she had.

With no buttons, no yard signs and no glossy literature from his nearly invisible Iowa campaign, she took a pair of scissors and cut out a photograph of the former Arkansas governor. She pasted it on a piece of paper, scribbled down some of his positions, made copies and launched the Huckabee for President campaign in rural Hardin County.

Roe contacted friends in her home-schooling network and bought a newspaper advertisement for $38. She spread the word in the grocery store and the church foyer: "I would tell them about Mike Huckabee and they would say, 'Who's Mike Huckleberry?' I'd say, 'No, no, no, it's Huckabee.' "

Huckabee's name is no longer a mystery to Iowa's Republican voters, in large part because of an extensive network of home-schoolers like Roe who have helped lift his underfunded campaign from obscurity to the front of a crowded field. Opinion polls show that his haphazard approach is trumping the studied strategy of Mitt Romney, who invested millions only to be shunned by many religious conservatives such as Roe, who see the former Baptist preacher from Hope, Ark., as their champion.

While early attention focused on Romney and other better-known and better-funded opponents, home-schoolers rallied to Huckabee's cause, attracted by his faith, his politics and his decision to appoint a home-school proponent to the Arkansas board of education. They tapped a web of community and church
groups that share common conservative interests, blasting them with e-mails and
passing along the word about Huckabee in social settings.

It was the endorsement by prominent national home-school advocate Michael Farris that helped propel Huckabee to a surprising second-place finish in the Iowa straw poll in August. And it was the twin sons of a home-school advocate in Oregon who helped put Huckabee in touch with television tough guy Chuck Norris, who appeared alongside him in an attention-getting TV spot and on the campaign trail.

Home-schoolers could also prove to be a powerful force on caucus night. By one estimate, about 9,000 Iowa children are home-schooled. Their parents could form a sizable portion of the 80,000 or so Republicans expected to show up on Jan. 3.

Huckabee's apparent success has been a surprise to many and there's no doubt from this article that homeschoolers are an integral part of his success not so much because of their educational choices but because they rely so much on word-of mouth to share information. Whether this campaign tactic leads to success on January 3rd remains to be seen. But if it does, it could fundamentally change poitical campaigns to focus more on word-of mouth communication than more traditional forms of political advertising.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hugh Laurie Sings.....Again!

I've previously written on Hugh Laurie's amazing muscial talents. In fact, he's part of a band along with several other actors called Band From TV. But one of my favorite performances is this one from Jeeves and Wooster.

Jeeves (Stephen Fry) is preparing dinner for Bertie Wooster's (Hugh Laurie) prospective in-laws. Meanwhile, Bertie is trying his hand at Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" and the resulting conversation is quite hilarious.

You can buy Jeeves and Wooster at the A&E Store.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Less is More

Every year I welcome and dread the Christmas season. I welcome it because of what it means and the joy that it brings to my family. I dread it because of the logistics involved in the shopping and decorating to get ready for what seems to often be an all too brief celebration.

Most years we've tried to provide an abundance of gifts for our girls. When they were younger, it seemed like the more presents they had the happier they would be on Christmas morning. But this year is going to be different. This is partly due to money (being broke tends to put a crimp in your Christmas spending) but more importantly because we wanted to de-emphasize the focus on material things. As my wife and I talked about ideas and discussed our plans for gifts for the girls we decided to be intentional about doing less for them (and for each other) while focusing on getting things for them that they wanted the most. In doing so, our hope is that they will enjoy and treasure what they receive more since what they get should be more special to them and much more desirable.

Perhaps it is because I grew up as a kid who was always showered with gifts at Christmas both by my parents and grandparents that I feel this way. I couldn't tell you right now of one special Christmas gift I received as a child. I don't have a particular favorite (although one or two memorable gifts do come to mind because they were unusual) in the way that most people can probably identify a special gift.

Hopefully my daughters will understand that their mother and I have made sacrifices this year to provide them with something special. My hope is that they will also see that Christmas has less to do with the material gifts that we receive but the special gift that God gave us in His Son. It's my hope that your Christmas will be special this year, too.

Editor's note: As a child, I was blessed with an abundance of wonderful Christmas memories. My mother, especially, took great pains to ensure that Christmas was the most festive and joyful time of the year. This post should in no way reflect unfavorably on those special childhood Christmases. My hope is that while our family Christmases are less abundant in gifts that the joy may be equal.

As my mother always reminded me, above all, Christmas is about the hope of Christ and sharing the season with the ones we love.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, one of the most devastating attacks ever on the United States. The survivors of the attack are slowly disappearing but at least a few of those left continue to serve this country by volunteering at the USS Arizona Memorial. Be sure to read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Quick Takes

A few random thoughts....

Dealing with The Golden Compass: For weeks I have been getting e-mails about the upcoming movie The Golden Compass (which opens December 7) and how it's one of the worst calamaties of all time that this film should be made. Okay, that's a little strong, but truthfully speaking a number of well-meaning people have been in a panic over this movie. I don't plan on seeing it but I do think it's helpful to be informed about how Christians should respond to the film. Also, Dr. Al Mohler has answered a few questions about the film. (Hat tip: Tim Ellsworth)

Profile in Courage: A high school senior competing in her last track meet breaks her leg during the final race of her career and still manages to cross the finish line. Click here to see the amazing video.

Remembering Pearl Harbor Most people know that the USS Arizona Memorial sits atop the wreckage of the famed ship at Pearl Harbor. But there is more of the ship that is kept at another location. Here's the whole story.

If the kids are spoiled then you can be sure it's the parents' fault.

Pig Out Here is the perfect gift for the barbecue lover in your life

Heard any good news about the war? If you haven't, don't be surprised. According to a new study from the Media Research Center as the situation in Iraq has improved, the number of news stories about the war have decreased.

What I'm Reading I'm currently working on Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork by Mike Huckabee. The governor is, of course, known for the tremendous amount of weight he has lost. In this book, he outlines 12 steps not just for losing weight but developing a healthier lifestyle. Although I've been losing weight for the past few months, I've found this book very challenging and an enjoyable read. If you want to get healthy, this is a good book to read before you get started.

Read to your kids Ridley Pearson recounts how his father's habit of reading to him and his siblings instilled in him a love for the written word. (Hat tip: Tim Ellsworth)

Now, this is what I call a crime deterrant This sign is in the window of the Blue Ridge Shooting Sports Store in Greer, SC.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Hat tip: Rich Galen

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Are the Primary Debates Necessary?

In the aftermath of Wednesday night's CNN/You Tube debate debacle, one of the questions that should be asked is whether the primary debates are really necessary?

Yes, CNN bungled the debate. Given how they did during the last Democratic debate, hopes for a dramatic improvement when the Republicans took the stage were grossly misplaced.

Some would argue it was helpful for Republicans to be put on the spot to answer tough questions. While that may be true, Republicans generally face more adversarial questions from the MSM so I don't know that the debate questions necessarily helped. It struck me that the focus of the debate became more about creating "gotcha" moments that the MSM could endlessly club the candidates with in the coming weeks.

The fact is that this year's debates have been more like Presidential beauty contests than honest debates designed to bring out not only differences in policy positions between the candidates but reveal their character as well. Rather than focusing on clear policy differences (if there really are any) success in the debates comes down to who can come up with the best soundbite that can be replayed on talk shows and in news reports.

The debates also force voters to focus on who is most "electable" rather than vetting the candidates (think John Kerry in 2004).

As this year's primary debates come to a close, both parties would be well advised to carefully examine what went wrong during this year's debates and how they can improve them. It is the only time that Americans get to see their candidates without the benefit of media or campaign spin. Voters need to know who the candidates are and what they stand for. Based on this year's debates, that's hard for anyone to figure out.