Archive for the ‘Top Ten’ Category


This year has been pretty up and down study-wise. I’ve had some good bursts but on the whole have generally lost momentum! Anyway, here are some things I learnt or remembered, at least things that have changed the way I write my essays this year that I wasn’t doing much of/well last year:

1) Blurt, even if it’s crap. This is probably a pretty standard tip but because I’m such a perfectionist it’s so hard for me to commit to this! I don’t want to write crap so I won’t write at all. Then after the half hour I’ve taken to produce a paragraph I get annoyed at its loose-wordedness and delete the poor guy. I’ve found it better to focus on blurting content and any thought I have, then going back to it later to touch it up.

2) Highlight shameful bits that you have no idea how to fix at the moment. If you can’t transcend the awkward gait of your grammar or spectacularly underwhelming critique, make an angry yellow note of it with the highlighter function. You might be able to ignore its monochrome glare for long enough to work on more fruitful pursuits and return to it when your mind is fresh enough to lay the sucker down.

3) Have synonyms, on hand! Sometimes starting three sentences in a row with “Moreover,” doesn’t must the custard. Organise your adverbs and other commonly used words into groups of synonyms so when your audience is expecting another “but,” surprise them with a “yet”! Moreover, the thesaurus is helpful.

4) Balance initial adverbs with abrupter beginnings. Sometimes when proofreading I realise I’ve gotten too excited about adverbs again and prefixed every sentence with one. “Similary, … Conversely, … However, … Nonetheless, … Thus, …” Then on my next day’s writing I go to the opposite extreme. When rereading it feels like I’m being pommeled with all these self-asserting thoughts that don’t want to hold hands. Find a nice medium. Make sure all of the sentences in the paragraph flow logically, but come up with creative ways to imply adverbs where you’re overdoing it. Use  shorter sentences, and semi-colons and colons.

5) Check your diction in the dictionary. Don’t use the word that almost communicates what you want to say. Before you make the ultimate faux pax, check that word you subconsciously appropriated from your bedtime sports nutrition reading and make sure it delivers as your brain advertises that it does!

6) Note your conventions and stick to them. Sometimes you need to make an executive decision. Style guide will betray style guide and some will just leave you with omissions. The world is yours, oyster. You might want to capitalise Facebook as a noun but lower-case it as a verb. Just make sure you’re consistent so if someone pulls you up on it you can point out your intentions.

7) Save every jot and tittle of notes and drafts. Hey so it’s supercool to continually save and back up your main work for safety reasons but I’ve found it helpful to also meticulously save copies of notes and drafts this year, rather than just flattening them into my single edition continuous thingy. That means that if I quote some person and think I do so clearly and contextually but then realise three weeks later I have no idea what they’re talking about or why I included them I can return to my notes and (hopefully) add some clarificaton.

8) Use Google Books and Amazon previews. Many a time my notes have also failed me. Sometimes you just need to return ad fontes, to the source. But when it’s in a library three working days away Google Books and Amazon previews can help you in your time of need. You can’t always preview everything but it’s often worth a try, and the search functions are also helpful for finding key passages in your texts.

9) Be succinct but clear. Often after giving my work a bit of a buzzcut to take down those nasty split-ending word counts, I’m a little uneven. I forget to take the hairs off the neck and leave the rest patchy. Leave it for a couple of days and come back to make sure that your thoughts still connect and flow logically are taking removing all that apparent extraneity.

10) Be spontaneously diligent. It’s easy to not do work when you’re supposed to and also it’s important to take holidays. But when you’re not on holiday keep that laptop or refill on hand so you can work in the unlikeliest places. A fifteen minute bus ride home can actually be the new cradle of civilisation.



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There’s no way I can even hope to cover at least some of these, though one might be possible. Nonetheless you might elect to indulge on my part! (They’re all theology related).



10. Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, Daniel P. Umbel, with foreword by Stanley Hauerwas (Baker Academic: October 1, 2013)This book re-examines the popular thesis that Bonhoeffer attempted to assassinate Hitler, reviewing this in light of his writings, as well as exploring his ethics on pacifism. Check out the detailed and informed review from Roger Olson. Remember to read the comments section and this response to the review from one of the authors.


evan theol

9. Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction by Michael Bird (Zondervan: October 30, 2013). Michael Bird is an Australian New Testament scholar who has spent his time among Baptists, Reformed, Presbyterians, and Anglicans: “I would describe myself as an ex-Baptist postPresbyterian Anglican.” Because he’s writing from Australia, he doesn’t need to be too careful about what he says either! Some reviewers on Amazon are not too sure about his biblical studies background and think that more experience with systematic theology would do Bird well. I’m often of the opinion that more experience in biblical studies would do systematic theologians well! He’s also a bit hilarious. One reviewer cites his comments on penal substitution: “I do not wish to disparage Jesus’ death as an atoning, vicarious, substitutionary, and penal sacrifice for sin. May I be anathematized — or even worse, may I be tied to a chair, have my eyelids taped open, and be forced to watch Rob Bell Nooma clips — should I ever downplay the cruciality of Jesus’ sacrifice for sinners” (he goes on to qualify this; it’s just too long to include). Laidlaw, the Bible College I went to this year, is probably going to be adopting this 912 page introduction as the textbook for all theology courses from now on. It would be handy to have around as a reference!



8. The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context by Myron Penner (Baker Academic: June 15, 2013). Not that I’ve looked into the basis for apologetics, but taking a leaf out of Kierkegaard’s book I suppose I’ve been quite ambivalent to it. It would be interesting to see how Penner attempts to reappropriate this sometimes controversial Christian inheritance.



7. The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction by Roger Olson (IVP Academic: October 31, 2013). Olson, an establised and learned teacher of modern theology, traces the major developments over the last 300 (?) years, looking at the epistemological soup from which it emerged, Scleiermacher and liberalism, American evangelicalism, all those amazing 20th century Germans, and postmodern and postliberal theologies, plus more. At 720 pages, this probably more for reference than light reading, though the latter will most probably do you a lot of good!



6. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy edited by J. Merrick, Stephen M. Garrett, and Stanley N. Gundry, with contributions from R. Albert Mohler Jr. (classical inerrancy), Peter Enns (historical-critical), Michael Bird (??), Kevin Vanhoozer (Augustinian inerrancy/something to do with theological interpretation of Scripture?), and John R. Franke (??) (Zondervan: December 10, 2013). Dear reader, during the course of writing this I bought this book on Kindle and somehow did not realise I would not have it for another couple of weeks! Anyway, Peter Enns is my homeboy. When I became a Christian I underwent a significant amount of confusion as to the role of Scripture in faith. It’s important to be aware of the different approaches out there and the strengths and weaknesses of each. Here’s a short introduction:


spirit power

5. Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism edited by Donald E. Miller, Kimon H. Sargeant, and Richard Flory  (Oxford University Press: July 24, 2013). A collection of essays on global pentecostalism, including why it’s growing, pentecostalism and politics, gender, and an appendix with figures. How can you not be excited!? I’m not 100% but pretty sure it’s not the Blue Like Jazz guy.



4. The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less . . . Now with 68% More Humor! by Jana Riess (self-published (?): October 26, 2013). What a project! Apparently it’s both funny and does not shy away from the controversy which the Bible itself presents. Psalm 17: “Shortest Ps. ALL nations have to praise G b/c of what he did for Israel. We’re talking to you, Egypt & Syria. PTL, already.” 2 Chronicles book introduction: “Like 2 Kings, but with northern kings and history removed. This is SOUTHERN history, y’all.” Genesis 9: “They’ve de-arked. G sends a rainbow to promise he’ll never again murder us by flood. Keeps earthquakes, tsunamis & hurricans in reserve.”



3. The Holy Spirit: In Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today by Anthony Thiselton (Eerdmans: June 1, 2013). Thiselton has written extensively on hermeneutics, as well as penning a large and impressive Greek commentary on 1 Corinthians. He is in (mostly suspicious) dialogue with postmodernism and explores Christian responses to this. He’s in his seventies and still going strong! Again, this is another sort of reference book (579 pages), briefly laying out biblical understandings of the Holy Spirit and then tracing these through history to contemporary approaches in theology.



2. Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, with foreword from Rachel Held Evans (Howard Books: November 5, 2013). Gender is one of the most important issues that evangelicalism needs to grapple with at the moment! Jesus and Paul, among other voices in the Bible, have been variously praised and criticised/critiqued for their approaches to gender. Sarah Bessey sees that there is at least some positive potential there. It will be interesting to see where she takes it!



1. Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N. T. Wright (Fortress: October 17, 2013). What else did you expect? N. T. Wright is possibly the most prolific contemporary Pauline scholar. At 1700 pages (1519 of reading material), this is a force to be reckoned with. Love him or dislike him, this is required reading for anyone who wants to seriously engage with the New Testament.



Bonus: The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth (Icon Books: No date… but quite recent!). I’m not all theology nerd! Forsyth is an etymologist, that is someone who looks at how words came about. In his new book he introduces his readers to the ancient discipline of rhetoric, that is, how to speak well.

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This semester I’m doing a course on the Gospel of John. After reading it these are some of what I regard as the “best bits”. I hope it doesn’t say too much about my faith:

10. Wine with Jesus

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he’s hanging out at a wedding in Cana, not too far from his hometown in Nazareth. This is where he performs his first miracle which “revealed his glory” (2:11). John records other miracles like healing an official’s “ill”¹ son (4:46-54), healing a man who had been “ill”² for thirty-eight years (5:1-9), feeding five thousand followers (6:1-14), and healing a man born blind (9:1-7). With this resumé, providing wine at a wedding pales in comparison. Perhaps even more embarrassing for Jesus is that he performs this when the guests have already had their fair share: Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now (2:10).³ But I won’t leave you hanging. Perhaps this passage speaks to its First Century context as Jesus meeting the important needs of hospitality. Maybe what appeals to me is its simple mystery: Why was Jesus’ first miracle providing wine?

Cana I have some?

Cana I have some?

9. 1st Century cannibalism

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. (6:53-55). This is quite intense and remains for me one of the most puzzling passages in John. The main difficulty I have with it is John’s use of sarx, here translated flesh. Elsewhere in the gospel he uses it in contrast to spirit, or spiritual things (eg. 1:13, 3:6, 8:15), so that flesh designates the human, material aspect. The difficulty is that interpreting sarx in the same sense here means that Jesus is asking his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood, plain meaning, no interpretation needed. Whatever its meaning, its value (apart from the obvious as a contribution to theology around the Eucharist) is in presenting Jesus as an enigmatic prophet who continued to shock his listeners, including newly acquired followers and those close to him. The result is that most of the crowd desert him and he is left with the twelve (6:66-69).

8. Paradoxical witness to Jesus’ validity

[“]I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” Then they said to him, “Where is your father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (8:18-19). Compare this with Jesus saying earlier that his testimony needs to be backed up by a secondary source (5:31). Basically, in this passage Jesus appeals to the Father as a witness to his messiahship and then continues by telling his audience they will not know the Father unless they know him! His proof runs on a paradoxical, internal logic. Further reading of the gospel will show that belief in Jesus is not closed. He provides signs (10:38), scripture testifies to him (5:45) and the Father is at work in people’s hearts (6:44). Regardless, the verses on their lonesome demonstrate the depth of Jesus’ words in John and the complex theology they deliver.

7. Listening to your mother

When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (2:3-5). Returning to the wedding scene at Cana, a further point to be made about Jesus’ first miracle is that he is ostensibly not ready for it. We know that, despite Jesus’ hour having not yet come, he does perform the miracle sooner or later. It would be convenient to be able to say that Jesus performed the miracle an hour later, which is a comical interpretation at best. Could it be that Mary’s ‘prayer’ is answered in line with prophetic tradition?4 Another passage presents a similar quirk where Jesus’ brothers ask him to go to the Festival of Tabernacles and he gives a similar excuse but then later goes to the festival in secret (7:2-10).5 The second passage differs in that it shows Jesus as having a greater, more considered plan in place of one seen through the eyes of the flesh, but the point remains that he appears open to change with the circumstances in which he finds himself.

6. Stepping on necks and suchlike

Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. (12:30). John makes no small mention of Satan. He actually develops quite substantial demonology (satanology?) on him (8:44). But the most badass thing about John’s mentions of Satan is their connection to Jesus. He always approaches it from an ask-no-questions-your-time-has-come standpoint. So we get that Jesus will drive Satan out (12:30), but also that he has no power of Jesus (14:30), and even that he is already condemned (16:11). Combine this with Jesus’ comments on freedom from slavery to sin (8:34-36) and you’ve got a pretty solid Gospel.



5. Just sayin’

Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. (20:3-4). One of my pastors first pointed this out to me. Why is it necessary to know, in the Good News of the Gospel, that one disciple outran another? To put things in perspective, said disciple is the same one who claims authorship (21:24). It was important to let two thousand years of readers in on the fact that one disciple was not quite as fast as the other. Of course, because the Bible is a ‘serious’ undertaking then we must undertake it seriously. Maybe the writer wanted to build on the theme of this disciple’s love for Jesus and Peter’s shame at having denied him. Maybe he was being careful to convey his account as historically and truthfully as it came to him. Either way, there is humour in the Bible and I think this is a great contribution. It fits into a wider tradition of unneccessary comic detail (eg. Judges 3:21-22). I couldn’t help but laugh either when I read about the number of fish the disciples caught in the miraculous catch, 153 (21:11). Who counts that kind of thing?

4. All too human

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ (11:32-36). Along with the aforementioned text of Jesus listening to his mother, this passage also shows how Jesus reacted to the circumstances around him. At the risk of sounding a little polemical, to say that God foreordained Jesus to weep, or especially that Jesus knew he would weep is to miss one of the main points this passage conveys: Jesus’ humanity. On hearing the news about Lazarus’s sickness, Jesus appears cool, calm, and collected (11:6), even demonstrating his divine knowledge that Lazarus has died in this period of waiting (11:11). Despite this, along with the fact that he is going to raise Lazarus for the sake of his disciples’ belief (11:14-15), he is still overcome by his emotions when on site with the grieving family.

3. Membership benefits

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples […] If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.[“] (8:31, 39-40). If Jesus was trying to gain followers then he was certainly doing a terrible job at that. After a decent conversation with some Pharisees, many of the people listening end up believing in him (8:30). But here’s the problem. He then turns to them and starts talking about the nature of discipleship, calling them slaves to sin (8:34), accusing them of planning to kill him (8:37) and going as far as labelling them children of the devil (8:44).6 Now how’s that for an induction process?

2. A blind man’s irony

They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ (9:26-27). As with the text on Peter being beaten to the tomb, this can be read as a nice bit of humour added into John. Jesus has just healed the blind man and the Pharisees are questioning him to find out who healed him, as he has been healed on a sabbath. After the second question he asks them if they would like to become one of Jesus’ disciples. I see two interpretative possibilities here. The blind man may not have been fully onto it with social cues and so genuinely put the offer out to the Pharisees, in light of his life-changing experience (imagine having sight for the first time). But what if he too was poking fun at the religious elite? He knew how they would react and so wanted to ruffle their feathers a little. This makes sense in light of the continuing dialogue: The Pharisees do not want to accept the work that Jesus is doing among them, despite the obvious change Jesus has had in this blind man’s life and his connection with it (9:28-34).

1. He is

Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (8:57-59). This is the thrilling conclusion to Jesus’ confrontation with his new believers (8:31ff). He has up until now been reasonably evasive of questions regarding his identity. Now, in the Temple at Jerusalem, Jesus tactlessly claims to be God,7 probably the highest form of blasphemy. What makes this all so dangerously exciting is it’s well-executed build-up from an earlier, more peaceable dialogue. It makes me smile and think he just said that!

* * *

¹Not ill in the sense that he’s got a cold, but something worrying in days before modern medicine. All scripture quotations taken from NRSV.

²Bruner’s commentary notes this is probably a paraplegic, made worse by his inability to look after himself and therefore lack of personal hygiene.

³Of course, the text doesn’t explicitly state the guests were drunk; it is only implied. I could also say that the law does not explicitly prohibit drinking; it is only implied (Deut 21:20). Take me up on this too because it would be good to argue out. The verses in Proverbs don’t count either. They instruct wisdom, not covenant responsibility.

4Interestingly, the name Mary is never used in John in reference to Jesus’ mother.

5Note that this passage uses time/kairos instead of hour/hōra. I’m not boss enough to say how significant this is.

6The most apparent meaning is that this discourse is engaged between Jesus and the new believers (8:30-31), although the text presents problems in that his accusations of them don’t line up with the idea of a believer. He is either challenging his believers to authentic deeper belief (the way I have read the passage here) or the discourse has been accidentally mixed in with something aimed at “the Jews” who yet don’t believe in Jesus.

7Cf. Ex 3:14, Ps 90:2. There is also a clear claim here to Jesus’ pre-existence.

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“A relative and I became fond of smoking. Not that we saw any good in smoking, or were enamoured of the smell of a cigarette. We simply imagined a sort of pleasure in emitting clouds of smoke from our mouths.”

“They were not an assembly of devout souls; they appeared rather to be worldly-minded people, going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom.”

Gandhi, An autobiography or the story of my experiments with truth

* * *

“The most serious Christians have always been well disposed towards me.”

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not in all eternity.”

Nietzsche, Ecce homo

Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd, “Ecce homo!” Latin for ‘behold the man!’. Nietzsche ironincally employs this title for his formative biography.

* * *

“God was introduced into the world on our terms in order to resolve a problem rather than expressing a lived reality.” Summarising Bonhoeffer’s deus ex machina, God out of the machine.

“The endless courses on apologetics triumphalist music, confident prayers and sermons of certainty don’t necessarily reflect the beliefs of the people offering them or receiving them. But everyone participates regardless, because they protect us from facing up to the anxieties of our existence.”

Peter Rollins, Insurrection

* * *

“So wel they lovede, as olde bookes sayn, /That when that oon was deed, soothy to telle, /His felawe wente and soughte hym doun in helle — ” sayn: say, oon: one, soothly: truely, felawe: fellow

“Man is bounden to his observaunce, /For Goddes sake, to letten of his wille, /Ther as a beest may al his lust fulfille. /And whan a beest is deed he hath no peyne; /But man after his deeth moot wepe and pleyne.” Or “For God’s sake it is man’s duty to refrain from his desire, whereas a beast may do whatever he pleases and when he dies he has no pain, but a man must weep and lament after death.”

Chaucer, The Canterbury tales

* * *

“If the Spirit does not move me, I move the Spirit”

Smith’s Wigglesworth, [I have neglected to record the title]

* * *

“The sixth commandment is ‘You shall not kill’. It is one of the shortest commandments and offers no commentary, explanations or variations. It does not say, as many Jews claim, ‘except in self-defense’, nor does it say ‘except when absolutely necessary’. It is one of the most plain declarative sentences in the Bible.”

“If the outbreak of war is inevitable, as seventeenth-century thinkers believed, history teaches the lesson that its inevitability does not rest, as they believed, on natural law, but on individuals incapable of conceiving another path.”

Mark Kurlansky, Non-violence, the history of a dangerous idea

Make love, not glaciers

* * *

“‘You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?’ ‘No, what do you say, Harrison Starr?’ ‘I say, Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?'”

“To teach wives of junior executives what to buy and how to act in a French restaurant.” On the function of a novel.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-five

* * *

“God is the cause of all good things, some directly, others indirectly. He is the direct cause of Old and New Testaments. He is the indirect cause of Greek Philosophy. Perhaps we say that God gave Philosophy to the Greeks, till the Lord should call the Greeks. For as the Law educated the Hebrews […] so Philosophy educated the Greeks, to bring them to Christ. Philosophy, therefore, was a preparation.” Clement of Alexandria presents a view that contrasts somewhat sharply with Paul’s.

Quoted by John Foster, The first advance, church history AD29-500

* * *

“When Akbar was issuing his legal order that ‘no man should be interfered with on account of religion’, and ‘anyone is allowed to go over to a religion that pleases him’, and was busy arranging dialogues between Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Parsees, Jews and even atheists, Giordano Bruno was being burnt at the stake in Rome for heresy, in the public square of Campo dei Fiors.”

“To hold the belief that nuclear weapons are useful but must never be used lacks cogency and can indeed be part of the odd phenomenon that Arundhati Roy […] has called ‘the end of imagination'”

Amartya Sen, The argumentative Indian

* * *

“The experience that we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing is fundamentally a lie — the truth lies outside in what we do.”

“The misfortune of Israel is that it was established as a nation-state a century or two too late, in conditions when such founding crimes are no longer acceptable.”

Slavoj Zizek, Violence

* * *

“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”

“It is everywhere the same in this world, toil and labour, joys and rewards; what of it? I am only contented in your presence, and I shall suffer or enjoy here before you.”

Goethe, The sorrows of young Werther

* * *

“I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

One of my favourite Looney Tunes episodes. Tweety appears as Mr Hyde.

* * *

“Sleeping is no mean art. You need to stay awake all day to do it.”

“The true man wants two things: danger and play. For this reason he wants woman as the most dangerous plaything.”

“To redeem the past and transform every ‘It was’ into and ‘I wanted it thus!’ that alone do I call redemption.”

Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra

* * *

Since that fateful day in September last year when I left home, these books managed to find their way to me. If you have questions as to context then just ask, but things are never as interesting when they’re in their original context.

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10. Almost famous (2000): When you’re passionate about music in high school, you look at the guys who influenced the guys you like, who influenced those guys, who influenced those guys, all the way until you get to the sixties and early seventies. Almost famous is a look at rock and roll when “it’s over”. As the character Lester Bangs (who has some killer quotes) continues, “You got here just in time for the death rattle, the last gasp, the last grope”. In this sense the film is essentially a eulogy for something my generation can only experience at a distance, but it somehow sells to you the fantasy of actually being there, especially in the scene on the tour bus when everyone, putting aside previous enmity and misgivings, unites in a impassioned rendition of Elton John’s Tiny dancer. You can also find Zooey Deschanel in the movie (see last-last post with Elf). She makes me want to have an older sister.

9. The Bourne trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007): From the moment I completed watching the first Bourne movie I knew I’d just experienced something quite awesome, but I never figured out why until I had a conversation with some Germans in Hamburg concerning the awesomeness of the trilogy. They in part convinced me that the films’ key defining factor, that sets them apart from other action movies, is the the setting: Europe. Europe is immediately richer. It’s history is ancient; there’s a different country every couple of hundred kilometres; and not everyone speaks English. Bond films utilise the European setting (among others) in this sense, but they fall short in other areas. Especially in The Bourne identity, this can be seen, taking us through the snow in the countryside, the metropolitan area, and the sunny promises of a small Mediterranean island.

8. Pirates of the Carribean (2003): My excitement for when this first came out was admittedly a little stilted by its hugely favourable and ‘mainstream’ reception. What else could I expect? Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow is freaking timeless, and he had a heavy influence on my character development in high school drama classes. I’m not sure if Geoffrey Rush is scary enough to play Barbossa, but I nonetheless love his work, and the twinkles in his eyes when he recounts to Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) the struggles of being a pirate in his particular predicament, “Too long I’ve been starving to death and haven’t died. I feel nothing… not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea, nor the warmth of a woman’s flesh. You best start believing in ghost stories Miss Turner… You’re in one!” Despite Barbossa’s relative unscariness, I think the film does an all-round good job of being generally scary. One example is in the opening scene with the mist as the ship comes across another that has been ravaged by pirates. You don’t see the pirates but you know that they’re never too far away, and it’s in not seeing them that the fear comes. Also appreciable is the use of ‘Pirate English’ throughout the movie, summed up by Sparrow’s ever returning, “Savvy?”.

7. The notebook (2004): I saw this just last year. There was one night when I had a couple of dudes over and I heavily suggested it because I hadn’t yet seen it, but they wouldn’t have a bar of it so we watched 300 instead. I ended up watching it not too long after. Everyone’s meant to cry at the end, because it’s really emotional or whatever, but the thing that got me was Allie and Noah’s awkward reuniting after not seeing each other for years. The two are passionately involved in a summer relationship before opposing forces pull them apart. The years go by and Allie becomes engaged to a lawyer, while Noah hits the drink and a few casual relationships. The two catch up as if to say goodbye once again, but a lot remains under the surface, until Allie cannot help but burst out, “Why didn’t you write me?” There’s no planning involved. She doesn’t pick the right time to ask. Instead, she’s overcome by the past and needs to express it. Also notable is the almost-sex-scene, which, when shielding my eyes, my flatmate said, “No Camo! They don’t actually do it!” (they don’t end up doing it because Allie doesn’t feel it’s right yet). Hahaha. What was so beautiful about this scene was that it didn’t seem lustful at all. It was a complete overflowing of their love for each other. It seems a bit perfect really.

6. Shaun of the Dead (2004): Too many good reasons. A clear one is the take on comedy Shaun of the Dead and it’s two stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost give. Simon (Shaun in the movie) also co-wrote the film. He’s awesome. Check him out on the British comedy Big train if you get a chance. Shaun kind of epitomises the modern hero. He’s got a deadend job, his long-term girlfriend just broke up with him because he didn’t make an effort to make something of their relationship, and he spends every night of the week going to the same pub. But against all this, he leads all his friends against the imminent zombie apocalypse.

5. Fists of fury (1972): If you’ve never seen a Bruce Lee film and you wonder why everyone raves about him then this is the place to start. It’s one of his earlier ones, before there was too much strong Hollywood influence on the Hong Kong cinema scene. Admittedly a bit slow at times, for martial arts action I don’t think it gets much better than this. Before they had special effects and complex stunts they had Bruce Lee. The scene where he takes on a dojo with his nunchaku is almost too awesome for words. And the reactions that the consequently smitten defenders give are enough to make me think that the scene was real (with some nice comic-book style sound effects). Having done some research on the internet, I can’t yet discover exactly how real it is, but judge for yourselves. Another bonus of this film is its very bad dubbing. Mandarin doesn’t quite translate into English that easily, especially when you’ve got a bunch of American movie opportunists who want to get the feature out asap. The mismatches are worth a few laughs.

4. Muppet treasure island (1996): So I’m guessing right now that this one will probably be the most contentious addition… Firstly, the idea of pirate movies is so timelessly awesome; secondly, so are The Muppets; thirdly, Tim Curry is the most perfect actor to play Long John Silver, and I think that he would do the job well even if this movie was a bit more serious. He embodies the perfect dichotomy of someone you can trust and befriend with someone who is deeply sinister. If you missed out on The Muppets’ most recent film, then you didn’t just miss out, but it’s a whole lot more than that (I think the new film has a much better approach to song; Muppet treasure island has some very cheesy numbers). There are so many memorable moments in this. A few of my favourites include: Billy Connolly’s last words, “Beware!” “What? The one-legged man?” “Aye! But also… beware running with scissors or other pointy objects”. Gonzo empathising with Jim Hawkins, “I hate my life”. “I hate your life too”. And near the end of the film, Sweetums, clearly the coolest Muppet, starts fighting for the good guys as if he was one all along, “Are you kidding? I love you guys!”.

3. The mission (1986): You’d be surprised how many people (including much of my former self) have never heard of this one, considering it’s got both Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in it. To be a real boring sucker, the main reason I really heavily enjoy watching this film is because of the ethical questions it raises. I don’t want to give too much of the story away because I’m assuming a lot of the readers wouldn’t have had seen this one, but basically it shows a South American rainforest tribe, whom the Jesuits (a monastic order — I think, although they may not be an ‘order’, like are Franciscans an order and Jesuits aren’t? Or the other way around? Etc?) convert to Christianity a little while before the piggery of empire turns up to wrest their land and take them up as slaves. The newly converted tribe, along with the Jesuits who stand by their side, struggle with whether they should resist with violence or love. I also like how the story can be a bit of a thorn in the side to Protestant soft-theology surrounding repentance. Mendoza (Robert De Niro), a slave-trader dealing in the natives, kills his brother in a duel after finding his brother making the best of his (Mendoza’s) fiancee. Father Gabriel meets with Mendoza, who is at the end of his tether in depression. But instead of offering mercy, Gabriel challenges him to repentance. It’s so forceful and real, so necessary! And it’s just what Mendoza needs. Yet, he knows repentance doesn’t mean offering a few heartfelt words. Mendoza is accepted into the Jesuits, and dedicates his life to the betterment of the Guarani people.

2. Tais-toi! [Ruby and Quentin] (2003): We originally went to see this because one of the leading characters, Quentin, has the same name as my dad. This is seriously the most funniest comedy I have ever seen, and probably the fact that it’s French helps a lot. The film is full of misunderstandings, hapless slapstick and hopeless misattempts to do what needs to be done. You probably wouldn’t watch the movie for any other reason than a good laugh (like the rolling on the floor type, as I’ve experienced) but there’s the consolation of a little bit of action, as the story follows two criminals, and the tender relationship they develop over the course of the film.

1. Life is beautiful (1997): So, here we are. And the top two are foreign, like I’ve got this obscure sense that films in another language are automatically of a more noble breed, like the grass is greener or etc. Incidentally, what initially led me to watch this one was because we had a poster of it in my high school drama room. La vita è bella (it’s Italian name, because it just sounds better and it’s what at least two (three?) Italians have said to me when I’ve mentioned I like this movie) starts off very light-hearted in a small Italian town. It follows the story of Guido, an optimistic lover of life who falls in love with and woos a local school teacher. They get married and have a boy. As things heat up in Nazi Germany, Italian Jews are rounded up for the camps. In keeping with the film’s namesake, the overall feel does not change a lot. Guido’s charismatic and upbeat influence persists even into the new hostile environment, where he convinces his son that they’re actually playing a game to win a tank. The whole movie is really heartwarming and all that kind of thing, and definitely worth reading subtitles for.

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What follows is possibly a list of my twenty most favourite movies, although I don’t think I’d ever know myself well enough to create such a list, or otherwise the whole ‘list’ idea oversimplifies the enjoyment and meaning we acquire from the silverscreen.

20. The pursuit of happyness (2006): Another Will Smith film, not altogether different in feel from Seven pounds. Excuse my optimistically post-feminist reading of the movie, but I appreciate the exploration of male weakness, in that the film focusses on a father left to fend and provide for his child, rather than the much more common (in real life, although this is based on a true story) mother left to fend and provide.

19. Man on fire (2004): I think this is one of those bad American action-thriller movies that is actually good. Like it’s actually good. John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is hired as a bodyguard to protect Pita (Dakota Fanning), who incidentally is typecast, surprise surprise, as an intelligent young girl. If I remember rightly, they threw in a few nasty facts about the kidnapping business as it really goes on in Mexico City.

18. The good, the bad and the ugly (1966): Despite the fact that I fell asleep last time I saw this (after heartily recommending it to those in my company), The good, the bad and the ugly will always be one of my favourites. The famous lo-fi soundtrack, for a start, is so killer! Quentin Tarantino thinks it the best film ever made. Some memorable moments include Tuco, the Ugly (pictured), being on the end of a rope for his indefatigable list of crimes, which are being read out to the crowd; he sneers at a prim and proper female bystander, evidently disgusted and somewhat frightened by the spectre before her. Tuco’s footing is removed and he dangles for some seconds before the Good (Clint Eastwood) shoots his rope and frees him. What is also awesome about the film is the American Civil War backdrop against which the action plays out, a backdrop which seems almost a world apart from the vigilante small-town Wild West scene.

17. East of Eden (1955): Based on John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name, which, in turn, is loosely based on (/inspired by) the biblical story of Cain and Abel. James Dean plays the broken and flawed Cal, who throughout the film continually strives and fails to impress his father, in contradistinction to his brother Adam. Dean, who died before his 25th birthday, plays an important role in that his character and struggles somewhat mirror his own in real life, and allow some degree of solidarity for the audience growing up in Dean’s generation (with a little help, all generations), as a person who grows up in the world yet is never properly equipped to deal with growing up in the world, one full of emotional needs and desires which demand to be fulfilled yet reality bars this possibility.

16. Across the universe (2007): Yay! Another musical! Across the universe need not worry about any fancy score though; it just includes some awesome covers and interpretations of already brilliant Beatles songs. The film is not only a tribute to The Beatles, but also to love. It’s cool how it loosely follows the events of the The Beatles’ lifetime: their humble origins, their enthusiastic coup d’état of the American music scene via British invasion, their narcotic enlightenment, the political tensions and opposing directions that eventually tore them apart… etc.

15. Once were warriors (1994): Before you heard Jango Fett with a Kiwi accent, know that Temuera Morrison made his mark on the world in Once were warriors. “Cook me some eggs”, as horrible as its origins may be, has become a staple imperative among New Zealanders wanting eggs for breakfast. The film explores the vast shortcomings of Jack ‘the Muss’, who fails to show his love for his family amid his violent and alcoholic nature. The sequel What becomes of the broken-hearted is also an important one to watch.

14. Children of men (2006): For my appreciation of this film I am somewhat indebted to Slavoj Zizek’s appreciation of it, who re-sold an already decent movie to me. Rather than being a post-apocalyptic, Children of men is more of a pre-apocalyptic or almost-apocalyptic examination of a society who can no longer reproduce (imagine the implications for contraception companies!). I like it because a man who is happy to get on with his life despite worldwide corruption, crisis, uproar, turmoil, etc, can no longer turn a blind eye and must confront some of the evils before him (wow! I really didn’t expect my analysis to sound that cliché. You’d be much better off (a) viewing the film and (b) looking at Zizek’s analysis).

13. Ong Bak (2003): If you’re a fan of martial-arts eye candy, don’t miss your chance to see Ong Bak. After a short conversation with a guy at church on Sunday night, I learned that Tony Jaa (the actor who plays the main role) does all his own stunts. The most compulsory-to-watch part is where, after a nice street chase, he finds himself cornered in an alley by the people pursuing him. To escape, he jumps onto one and then runs across their shoulders as if across ground. Another feature of this movie is that it’s set in Thailand, so it’s maybe a style you haven’t been yet exposed to.

12. Despicable me (2010): Seriously can’t wait for the sequel. An old flatmate shouted me to see this film in 3D at the theatre. Yes! Pharrell’s opening song of the same title is too cool for a kid’s movie. My flatmate pointed out that when Gru goes to the Bank of Evil, it subtly shows “formerly Lehman Brothers”, a real life American bank that went bankrupt in 2008. Vector is also the coolest bad guy. Ever. He wears orange and invents a squid gun. I love it how he says “Oh yeah!” all the time, sometimes bordering on sexual allusions. This scene is one of my faves.

11. Into the wild (2007): Reading Goethe recently I came across this quote, “You say that my mother would like to see me kept occupied, which made me laugh. As if I were not occupied now; and does it make much fundamental difference whether I count peas or lentils? The affairs of the world are no more than so much trickery, and a man who toils for money or honour or whatever else in deference to the wishes of others, rather than because his own desire or needs lead him to do so, will always be a fool”. For me that pretty much sums up the film as well as Christopher’s cynicism (the philosophy, rather than the common definition of cynicism). I think this film is powerful in that it can remind us of what’s important and take our focus off the superficial things in life. I was somewhat inspired to spend a night in the Port Hills after watching the movie. It was cold. The danger in taking inspiration from any movie like this is that people so often hold it at a distance, as a nice idea, but they never put the dream into practice. It’s time to quit your job and do something real, guys. However, another thing that I think the film doesn’t emphasise enough is the individualist nature of Chris’ call. Although it is something at the root of his being that he absolutely must do, it costs not only himself everything but the peace of his mother and father, and even his sister, whom he is very close to, probably made worse by his eventual untimely death.

I know it’s naughty that you kind of thought I was going to show all twenty because I kind of led you to believe that, although it wasn’t the title’s fault… I realised that as I continued with the list, my comments were getting a lot longer so I’ve decided to split this one into two (a last minute decision!). But this does mean you get a cool picture with every one on the list!

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You’re smack-bang in the middle of a movies list now so if you missed the last one, it’d be worth a flick through before reading this one. If a film you love has failed to make the list either (a) I have not seen, or possibly heard of, it, (b) I have seen it but I’m just not a fan, or (c) I completely forgot to include it! All lists like these are going to be highly subjective for personal reasons anyway.

On violence: Recently I saw two reasonably graphic¹ movies, Hotel Rwanda and The whistleblower. This list was completed before I saw them so I couldn’t think about a place for them on it. Both based on true stories, Hotel Rwanda centres on the events surrounding a four-star hotel during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and The whistleblower follows an international worker in post-war Bosnia who discovers how alive and well human trafficking really is. While we may have become desensitized to violence written about in newspapers or the internet, graphic violence has its merits in that it brings the reality closer to us, despite all the other reasonable reservations you may have. Graphic violence is an effective way of letting us into the know, and in this sense it is a call to action².

40. Police story (1985): One of Jackie Chan’s earlier movies, Police Story gives us a look at some of his best work. The opening action sequence is a lot of fun to watch, and although, like most action movies, the events are a bit farfetched, the characters present an alternative to characters of American cinema (there are no fearless heroes quipping cheesy victory puns, and people cry and wet their pants in ways that you’d expect with all those guns around). An added bonus is the addition of a bit of slapstick and misunderstanding for some comic relief between action scenes.

39. 300 (2006): I still remember when they played a scene from 300 in church to illustrate the lavishness of Xerxes (ha, oh no, I don’t remember what the sermon was about; just that we were watching a bit of 300). 300 wins for its visual power. There is a kind of persistent foreboding/brooding feel throughout the film, as if the whole world is a kind of darkness, and when this is absent there’s still a sense that existence is awaiting its moment to get back at you for being born. The coolest thing about this movie is the array of bad guys. The immortals were my favourite, but also the rhino, and I think Frank Miller, or the screenwriters, whatever, did a great job of portraying the rhino through ancient eyes (remember, also, the elephants in The lord of the rings).

38. The family man (2000): A bit of Nicolas Cage? I’ve always found his acting semi-alright… but the concept for this film was quite a nice one I thought, one that fits it as a Christmas movie: The wealthy Wall Street business man into another world wakes up without his money and freedoms, and a wife and kids instead. Although the film plays into the fantasy of having your cake and eating it too (in an obscure sense, a Kierkegaardian double movement where the knight lays down everything and receives it all back again), it’s also a tender reminder of the things that really matter.

37. 10 things I hate about you (1999): A perfect teen movie that focusses on those on the outer, rather than the status quo, the two-dimensional John and Jane Everyman who want to be popular, get laid or get into the right college, etc. This is a story of two rebels who, though they necessarily uphold some degree of the American teenage dream, they also scorn it for both lesser and greater desires. I love Kat’s reading of her poem I hate towards the end of the film, “But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you”, representing the lament at her inability to overcome her clash of desires.

36. American history x (1998): Brilliant exploration of not only racism, but also hate. Seeing the movie for the first time, I was genuinely surprised by Derek’s complete change of values following his time in prison. It’s awesome to see a cheesy theme like redemption advocated by such a hard-nosed movie.

35. Boy (2010): As with Eagle vs SharkBoy contains aspects of comedy with a much darker undercurrent (same director). It’s a kiwi movie about a boy (!) growing up in 1980s New Zealand, and it allows you to view that much darker side of life through his innocent eyes.

34. The Shawshank redemption (1994): We studied this in high school. So did everyone, so I hear. Someone once said to me that they hate when we have pull apart movies, etc and analyse them and do all that kind of stuff because it’s so ruinous to the pure art form as unadulterated by logic. Turns out it’s still one of my favourite movies, maybe even more so using the information and attention to idiosyncrasies that my amazing English teacher pointed out. This marked a time in my life when I first began to realise that movies could be understood as great works of psychology and philosophy, that they had an insight into human nature, relationships and experience. There are so many favourite moments. Probably the most indie thing that slaps me within my chest every time I see it is when Andy sends Red the blank postcard; the photo and the postmark is all that there is. Necessarily it is blank, lest it be used as evidence to find Andy and bring him back to Shawshank. But the blankness is not just that, so much more! It’s like a single esoteric gesture communicating love between two people, esoteric in that only they can experience and share in it because only they two can know just what it means, despite the audience rudely observing from the other side of the screen.

33. Moonraker (1979): There are so many Bond films, and I’ve seen enough once, twice, thrice or more growing up that at least one of them needs grace the list. I remember reading that Moonraker was the Bondmakers’ response to Star Wars.  In Moonraker, Bond, not only gets to farewell his antagonist amid the stars, but he also gets some out of this world action, hint hint (I will here avoid the very bad pun he makes at the end of the film regarding this). One magical moment is when Bond and his female accomplice escape and crash through a conveniently placed 7-up billboard, a beautiful irony that endorses a product only to destroy it. I also love the appearances of Bond’s formidable enemy Jaws in this movie, especially when he finds a lady-friend who is made out to be someone who finally understands him. If you’ve seen it, she somehow reminds me of Mr Bean’s girlfriend, yes? No?

32. Jurassic park (1993): One day it will be possible. When I was tiny we tried recording this over a video we had of Disney’s Robin Hood. Turns out that only the video but not the audio was recorded, which makes for hilarious viewing when T-Rex is eating someone on the toilet amid casual remarks about lunch.

31. I am Sam (2001): That awkward moment when you’re watching this with your nana and trying not to cry… A handicapped man fights for custody of his daughter. It was miserably beautiful.

30. Gladiator (2000): Russell Crowe actually does alright. Naww, he’s not that bad (It’s worth getting a look at Romper stomper, an American history x a little closer to home, both movies courtesy of a former flatmate)! You could say that historical actions are a lot more appreciable than modern-setting actions, devoid of all that big-brother-is-watching conspiracy stuff that allows viewers to trust their mistrust to the Hollywood. Yet Gladiator is a conspiracy in the real sense, a classic conspiracy disguised in the historical, of a man who loses his life gains in status, wealth and relationship to a cold-hearted subtle-usurper. I love how the film gives the bird to the typical story arc, where the main character does not completely triumph in the end (compare Braveheart, where William Wallace, although tortured to the point of death still triumphs in spirit; somehow Maximus’ end spar appears a lot less triumphant). I also enjoy the visual representations of Elysium, the Roman afterlife, which appeal to a common desire for life after death.

29. The adventures of Milo and Otis (1986): A live action film involving a kitten and pug as the main characters. I still have nightmares about the bears.

28. The dark knight (2008): There should never be any denying that Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the nihilistic Joker was completely aweinspiring. The well-known pencil scene will not have to wait long before being included in lists of top movie scenes, and Joker’s oft-imitated “Why so serious” is yet to find an imitator who can actually pull it off as well as did Ledger.

27. The lord of the rings (2001, 2002, 2003): Ignore the Tolkien fans; let the rest of the world speak. Peter Jackson more than succeeded in his visionary interpretation of Tolkien’s novel. Not only that but many people over the world who have seen the films associate the beautiful New Zealand landscape with these films, something we have access to just over our back fences. I have not yet watched all three in a day (I’ve missed out on two opportunities to do so), but it definitely seems like the right thing to do, some day.

26. Up (2009): Kids movies are getting cooler. The persistent surreality and optimism of Up are a refreshing appeal to the more mature viewer. The opening montage is at once a heartwarming and heartbreaking insight into the human condition, a tender rendering of lacrimae rerum. You may find it worthwhile to also have a quick look at the real life Up house.

25. Inception (2010): It was good to see DiCaprio back on the screen beyond his prime (remembering Titanic and Romeo and Juliet fifteen years earlier), although he doesn’t look old, but more like a young guy with an old face. Inception is one of those films which you can subtly puff yourself up with by making intelligent conversation which shows your understanding of it. I like how it appeals to my sense of desire for power, by giving people unlimited control over their environment depending on how committed they are to that desire, or whatever, like The matrix?

24. Good Will Hunting (1997): Matt Damon receives a lot of undue hassle, a result of Team America, so I’ve heard. On the contrary, he plays some awesome roles, like Will Hunting in said movie. Not only that, but he and Ben Affleck (whom I don’t share as much enthusiasm for) co-wrote the film. I love the movie for many reasons. Will is overly-able in most areas of his life, yet he finds it difficult to function properly in a range of standard human relationships. His over-abilities also lead him to make a mockery of those around him because he is familiar with their ideals and practices, yet he scorns them. The climax of the movie comes in a last session between Will and his ongoing therapist Sean. Sean, after having tried everything and continuing to fail counselling Will, proceeds to simply repeat to Will, “It’s not your fault”. Will, aware of what Sean is doing, reacts almost violently before breaking down into Sean’s arms. Will always knew that his past sufferings were not his fault, but he somehow needed to hear them from someone else to believe it.

23. Elf (2003): I realise I’ve actually a few Christmas movies on the list, possibly because they roll around almost every season and just stick in your head, or maybe because you just watch more films around Christmas because there is more on TV. You may notice I’ve neglected to include Jingle all the way (Arnold Swarchenegger), Die hard, and The grinch who stole Christmas, ad infinitum. Elf somehow cracks me up so much, and I think this role is one of Will Ferrell’s most fitting. Zooey Deschanel is also exceptionally pretty (and she sings!).

22. The road (2009): Based on a not-too-long-ago-written book of the same name, The road stands out from all the other in vogue post-apocalyptic films being released this last decade. The going is heavy and dull, and I found it especially scary (there are cannibals!). The film also explores the tension between looking out for one’s own and one’s self against vulnerable others in a hostile world.

21. The lion king (1994): Out of each on the list, I’ve definitely seen this without a doubt the most times more than any other film. We had it on VHS, and made sure that when we sold it at the garage sale, when all our other videos went for $1, this one went for $2. I’m sure my sister watched One hundred and one dalmatians at least once for every dalmatian too. There are countless good things to say here. The soundtrack will forever have a place in my heart. My favourite scene would have to be either when Timon and Pumba do their diversion dance in front of the hyenas or when Simba and Nala “ditch the dodo” through song and Zazu ends up under a rhino. I actually faintly remember seeing this at the cinema, which involved a wee short with Pluto preceding the film (like the Pixar shorts that they have before some of their features).

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¹Reasonably graphic according to my little experience in movie watching. I have no interest in anything like Hostel or SawHotel Rwanda is not so graphic in what we do see, mainly the many dead bodies, but the suggestive nature of the film is graphic in itself.

²A pun.

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