Saturday, February 28, 2015

2014 in Film

With the usual caveats and excuses, sure changes to come, here are my lists of 2014:

My Favorite:
10. Godzilla
9. Muppets Most Wanted
8. The Imitation Game
7. Dear White People
6. Unbroken
5. How to Train Your Dragon 2
4. Babadook
3. Captain America: Winter Soldier
2. Big Hero Six
1. Guardians of the Galaxy

Most Disappointing:
-5. Only Lovers Left Alive
-4. Labor Day
-3. Divergent
-2. The Monuments Men
-1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Yet to See:
[Rec]4 Apocalypse
The Boxtrolls
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Deliver Us from Evil
The Equalizer
Gone Girl
The Theory of Everything
The Wind Rises

Friday, February 27, 2015

Brief Thoughts on "Fury" (2014)

“Fury” was, in spite of brilliant cinematography, editing and acting, a bit of a disappointment. In a film that aims to show the terrible reality of war—the inhumanity, the horror, the evil all around—“Fury” seems to have gone a step or two too far. What one is left with is so much horror and hatred that any message is overwhelmed.

It does manage to avoid the hero worship aspect of some war films. Pitt’s character “Wardaddy” in particular is an example of the tension within a man trying to lead men to do their duty and survive while visibly struggling with the monster he has become. Other men under his command have lost that struggle and come across as no better than the Nazis they are killing.

Shia LaBeouf made news claiming this film led to his conversion. One wondered if it was merely his “method acting” and whether it would last, but seeing the film one wonders where the epiphany even came from. The character is a cartoon of a Christian.  Not a terrible one, but not fleshed out much either.

If you are looking for inspirational hero material, this is not your film. On the other hand, if you can handle a realistic messy look at men killing each other, this is a very well done film and the message is tucked in under all the carnage and inhumanity. It tries too hard though, and there are other examples of balanced, honest looks at WWII.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Star Trek TOS (Season 1c)

Season 1b – Season 1d

Trek has really hit its stride, and even the weaker episodes here tend to be entertaining, if not always intelligent or thought provoking.

Episode 16 “The Galileo Seven”

Summary: Spock leads a shuttle crew that crashes on a planet where giant men in fur dresses throw spears at them. Meanwhile, Kirk is pressured to abandon the search and rescue to deliver some medicine.

Struggle: Production values really hurt this episode, especially the “monsters.” That said, the writing is still pretty bad. They didn’t quite have Spock figured out as a character yet.


This episode feels like a misstep. It seems wrong that Spock’s first command would be a minor, shuttlecraft mission, especially since he is second in command for a starship. Also, they were clearly struggling to find the correct level of logic for Spock’s character. It seems that Spock would have had a lot of experience and a better command of using pure logic in real-world situations. Because as much as one would like, the world does not operate on a purely logical level. People simply aren’t that rational, and giant hairy monsters seem to be even less so.

Episode 17 “The Squire of Gothos”

Summary: The Enterprise is harassed by a childish, godlike, alien who is as obsessed with as he is misinformed about Earth.

Struggle: This one seems to hold up pretty well.


This basic premise has been done enough since this show that it seems like rather a trope to today’s audience. I feel certain that this episode did not initiate the idea, at least in all of fiction. That said, it is done well in spite of the way the trappings are rather dated. The sexism is uncomfortable, but that is a reoccurring problem in the original Trek. Less an analysis of divinity, this is a premise that causes us to evaluate our role in creation. Are we as advanced and smart as we think we are, or are we just a bunch of children in the grand scheme of things?

Episode 18 “Arena”

Summary: Even more “all-powerful-aliens” interfere with the Enterprise. This time, they stop a interstellar battle and force Kirk and an alien captain to fight to the death in order to see with race will be allowed to survive.

Struggle: This one is iconic, but saying the alien is less than agile is an understatement. Also, Kirk’s canon and his ability to make gunpowder is a little much to swallow.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Drain and Stress of Trust

Yesterday I went to bed a good hour to ninety minutes earlier than usual, and I slept hard. I was exhausted. The noteworthy thing about that is that—apart from a brisk 5km run, which is routine for me 3-4 times a week—I largely sat around doing nothing. I had things I could do, but I just couldn’t seem to motivate myself.

What I did instead is sit around waiting for a phone call that I was hoping would not come. My wife was in the hospital for a routine, safe, yet major surgery. In the US, I would have been twiddling my thumbs in the waiting room waiting for a report. But my experience in Germany—particularly the eastern part of the country—has been quite different.

They don’t want you there. They don’t even let you hang out in a waiting area. You are expected to go to work, or home. And, don’t expect a report either. That is something for the patient’s ears only. So, unless the worst happens, you know you are in the dark.

In some ways this seems inhumane. But in the German culture it fits perfectly. What you want it to stay busy and never contemplate the unexpected or the unplanned. So, when someone does have to go to a hospital, it seems natural that people would simply deliver their loved ones and wait for them to be whole again before picking them up. And waiting rooms seem too conducive to asking those pesky difficult questions no one wants to ask.

In my case, it was a good exercise in faith and trust. I had to wait far away from my wife and trust God and the doctors to keep her safe. I knew (or hoped) I wouldn’t hear anything, and simply trusted that I would be able to reach her once she came out of the surgical haze. It was a good exercise in putting my trust into action.

And it was exhausting!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Unbroken" (2014)

At the (long-time-coming) end of “Unbroken” a text on the screen informs the viewer that Zamperini found God, and found true meaning in life through forgiveness. Unfortunately, we never see this aspect of the story. What we did see—without that all important meaning and fulfillment—amounts to nothing more than suffer-porn, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. The film is wonderfully made. It is strangely inspiring. It will likely end up amongst the best films of the year on my list based on the amazing cinematography, acting, and the bits of the story we do see.

Still, it bothers me that we found what we got so inspiring. Many Christians I know loved this film. But there is no way to argue that what we got is some sort of inspirational Christian story. Either we are filling in gaps with external knowledge, or we have a messed up fascination with the suffering of others. There is a strong Biblical message teaching that suffering for the faith--and an identification with Christ’s suffering—is edifying.

However, this was not the story of a Christian suffering for the faith. It is tragic circumstances. It is incredible resilience. It is general, petty injustice. It is a man with incredible fortitude and endurance. Unbroken, sure. But the message we get is encompassed in “If you can take it, you can make it.” I would have preferred the story that taught about the power of forgiveness.

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