Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Top Films: Disney Classics

Some common misconceptions: animation is a genre, animation is for kids, and traditional animation is dead.
Somewhere around number 19 on the list of top films, Disney makes an appearance. No one film can be singled out. It is true that Disney animation has lost some of its ability to deliver magic since Walt died. It seems they mistook the secret of their success to lie solely in the quality of their craft and forgot the vital element of story. When Computer animation came along and Pixar began to surpass Disney, they again thought that the mere medium was responsible and panicked.
The real secret to Disney success was a marriage between the best artist in the medium and the best storytellers in Hollywood. Beauty and the Beast remains the only animated film to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The music, especially that of the Sherman brothers in The Jungle Book and other movies, is always top notch. The number of technical advances and achievements has changed film consistently. One Hundred and One Dalmatians introduced Xerox technology into animation and for a period, perhaps Disney’s richest, it dictated a distinct look to the films.
Perhaps one of the most creative book to film adaptations ever, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, managed to stay incredibly faithful to the original stories, but also managed to be self-referential. This is similar to the book itself that made no effort to hide the fact that it was merely a collection of imaginary stories that the author told his child. Disney manages this by having one character, which is not in the book, actually say: “I’m not in the book!” Also, the omniscient narrator becomes involved in the action and even reveals the fact that the action is taking place, literally, in the illustrations of a book! Genius.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lean Missions

NonModern is not a fan of treating Church and ministry as a business, but there are business principles that can help inform the way ministry is done.

BBC did a story today on how “Lean Manufacturing” has infiltrated and hurt the service industry. Lean Manufacturing is basically a concept Toyota came up with trying to rid itself of any waste in production, and in so doing, reduce costs. In the service industry, such as in sales, it has meant firing full-time employees and instead using cheap, inexperienced, untrained employees only during times of peak business. In so doing, the service industry has lost expertise, customer service, and customer loyalty.

Think for a minute about the trends one sees in missions today. There is a real shift away from career personnel towards short term or volunteer people. The idea is: All Christians should witness. Missions is basically witnessing. Why invest in getting people to spend their entire careers on the field when it is easier and cheaper to use short-term personnel?

It is true that there are tremendous benefits to having ever more Christians experience cross-cultural evangelization first hand, and short timers are needed. However, abandoning the expertise and cultural investment of career missionaries is done at a tremendous cost. Evangelization success is directly proportional to cultural closeness. That is to say, people respond most to the Gospel that is presented in their own context. Missions requires more than just some canned presentation of the Gospel. Missions involves incarnational witnessing.

How much language learning and cultural adaptation is a person willing to do, if they are only going to live in a culture for two years? The fact is two years is only enough scratch the surface of most cultures. By the time short-timers are leaving they are often really just getting started.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Acts: Persecution (12:1-5)

In the book of Acts, each new persecution brings growth and strength to the new church; it also intensifies and increases the persecution. In chapter 12 one of the twelve is martyred and Peter himself is imprisoned. This leads to one of the most exciting stories of the new church: Peter’s rescue by an angel. It is so cool when those praying Christians don’t believe the servant girl when she says their prayers have been answered! Oh them of little faith!
However, lest we become smug in hindsight, we must face up to one fact: if the American church were to face persecution such as that, it would cease to exist.
The American Evangelical Culture as it exists today could not withstand real persecution, because it is simply a provider of answers for daily life. Its survival depends on it continuing to provide a means for people to make more money, raise better kids and have more successful lives. It is made up of a collection of people who believe because it is convenient to do so.
In fact, it is hard to imagine true persecution ever happening against the American Evangelical Culture. It is hard to imagine because for that to occur, there must be a group committed enough to accept persecution rather than abandon the faith. Most in the evangelical subculture believe based on results. They are pragmatists. They believe because “it works.” If it ceased to produce results, then it would be considered false. Many American evangelicals would probably see persecution as proof that they were mistaken and would justify their compromise by shifting their belief.
It is time lead the church out of the cultural ghetto it has built for itself. We need to be incarnational, not monastic. We need a faith to confront and change the world, not to insulate and bless ourselves.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia have become one of those things that everyone thinks they know, but few really do. Far more than just those “kids books about the closet and the lion,” they are perhaps some of the best books ever written. Just because they are simple enough that children can enjoy them, does not make them children’s books. They are far too layered to be fully grasped as a child, and for full enjoyment they really need to be read at every stage of life.

The initial appeal is on a childlike level. What child doesn’t wish that their imaginings and make-believe could become reality? And to think that some magical land lies hidden just out of sight… One of the most magical moments in literature is when Lucy first finds her way into Narnia by crawling ever deeper into the back of the wardrobe. Once there, Narnia delivers everything a child could hope for: snowy forests, talking animals, danger, intrigue, and scary bad guys.

For the adult, Lewis interjects a lot of wisdom and “that is so true!” moments. Tolkien always said that the chief problem with Lewis’ fiction was that it was too obviously allegorical. On the contrary, part of the joy of reading Lewis is to catch glimpses of his brilliance. His allegory was not concerning with a simplified Gospel message, but rather about deep issues regarding philosophy, reality, and the Christian walk. He was truly one of the great Christian thinkers. Sadly, few people today really practice the discipline of simply thinking.

It is a sad statement for art in the Christian community today that brilliant writers are condemned for not writing Christian enough, and hack writers are rewarded for churning out pulp or romantic fiction that has simply been “baptized.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Top Films: "I'm the son of a sea cook!"

Arsenic and Old Lace is Frank Capra’s least preachy film, and perhaps one of his better ones for it. He actually chose the film to get away from the more message heavy films he was known for. In the process he made what might be one of the earliest dark comedy films ever.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Well, As Long As You Feel Good About Yourself

Well, 2007 marked the greatest temperature change for the planet since instrument readings have been taken. The only problem is, the temperature dropped. Combine that with the fact that sunspot activity is way down, and we now have a scientist saying that “Global Warming” may be over and we should get ready for anther ice age.

This scientific soothsayer is probably no more right than the Al Gores of the world, but the point is: How much effort should politicians put into making people jump through hoops all in the name of climate change, when the sun counteracts any attempts we make to affect the climate? It is kind of like the old story about the fly on the ox’s back complaining about all the hard work they are doing.

A lot of people like to think that their lives and the decisions they make have a huge impact on the world. In some cases, like relationships and societies, an individual can make a difference, but when knee-jerk and power hungry political leaders coordinate societies behavior, all they end up affecting is people’s lives.

The latest fiasco is the reallocation of huge amounts of grains from food supplies to bio-fuel production. Many scientists are still raising questions about whether “bio-fuels” actually do less damage. Meanwhile the cost of basic nutrition has drastically increased. Starvation is killing 25,000 people a day. What is more important: competing with a ball of fire 1,300,00 times bigger than the earth for the number one spot on the climate affecting factors, or feeding the poorest people on the planet?

The fact is, for a lot of climate change zealots, 25,000 deaths a day is a step in the right direction since over population is one of the biggest problems they see about humanity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Canis lupus familiaris

There are things in life that are worth doing, but you never find a good time to do them. Having kids, planting a garden, or buying a pet all come to mind. In the end there are people who just do it, the parents, gardeners, and pet owners among us. There may be a cost involved, but they find the rewards worth it.

Arguments could be made for all of the above, but the fact is that some people are meant to be parents and some really should consider sterilization. Some people have a knack for growing things, and some people can’t keep weeds alive. Cats are great to look at, and earning their love can be rewarding if they don’t make your eyes swell shut. However…

Buying a dog is something everyone should do at some point.

There really is a dog for everyone. Just think about it. What other species on the planet can produce Irish Wolfhounds (giant, hairy beasts over 3 feet tall) and Chihuahuas (glorified rats)? What other animal is capable of baiting bulls, or being carried around in a purse?

Yes, there are the bad sides to dog-ownership. They have to be trained. They have “accidents.” They like to chew. The have a whole obsession with each other’s butts. They love to get dirty. They like to explore garbage. The big ones can be scary and the little ones can be broken. But there are good things too.

You are their favorite person in the world. They don’t talk. They can be taught to help. They reduce the need to sweep the kitchen floor. They break down barriers with strangers. They can make you feel safer. They are good for your health. They -reduce stress. And the unconditionally love, no, they worship you.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Acts: Antioch (11:19-26)

Christianity’s early adherents saw themselves as Jews. They didn’t really see themselves as a separate group until Antioch. As a cosmopolitan, urban center and the third largest city in the empire after Rome and Alexandria, it was a perfect place for Christianity to expand into the Gentile population.
The men responsible for initially bringing the Gospel to Antioch are not named. We may never know who founded this important and influential Church. It is also interesting to note that the Apostles were content to send Barnabas to investigate instead of one of their own number. Barnabas was the perfect choice to send to Antioch, and a large factor in the success the movement experienced beginning there. He was an encourager, and one imagines him empowering the new Christians to reach out to the city and grow in areas no one had previously imagined the faith would be accepted. The work soon grew to the point that Barnabas needed help. He went to a lot of trouble to find the person who quickly becomes the main character of Acts: Paul.
In some ways Christianity had its birth in Antioch. The model for success in future expansions of the faith was discovered there. Christianity is a faith that works in all cultures because it is beyond culture. It thrives in large urban settings and expands from there to the surrounding regions. Somewhere along the line the idea has been abandoned. In some people’s view it is the faith of small towns and country churches and has no place in large, influential, multicultural cities. That is just not Biblical.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Television: 24

For those living under a rock, 24 is a program about preventing terrorism. It is presented in real time. During the course of a season the viewer witnesses a day in the life of Jack Bauer.

The show is an action-thriller, and Jack is really more of a super hero than a human being, but the issues and topics addressed are relevant ones; things that people and governments actually struggle with. How should terrorist threats be treated? How much power should law enforcement have? What are acceptable methods of integrating suspects? How much life and freedom can be sacrificed to safeguard the greater good?

The show does a good job of showing some hard realities. Is there anyone anymore who would cooperate with terrorists hoping to be spared? Bad guys will kill you anyway once they get what they want—so don’t cooperate. Torture is another topic that the show treats pretty well. For the most part it is ineffective, and as a regular sanctioned tactic it should be out of the question. It only seems to work for Jack, and then only occasionally. There are a couple characters that seem a little overeager to use it.

One of the best dramatic elements of the show is the in office politics/ back stabbing that goes on at the Counter Terrorism Unit. The viewer can always count on at least one mole in the system, and even characters that are not evil tend to let power plays get in the way of getting the job done.

The great lessons of 24: there are evil people in the world that must be opposed, and the rest of us, while not evil, are flawed. The great questions: when do these people eat or go to the can?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why Do Theology?

Theology is important to the Christian existence because a faith without reason is an unexamined faith. This faith is weak as it is untested, and it also is unfulfilling as the person with an unexamined faith does not know his God well. Theology is the pursuit of God, the desire to know Him more. Christianity is a relationship with God, hopefully with the same desire.

Not all Christians who are pursuing God may realize they are “doing” theology. That is to say they may not set out to deliberately study God in an academic fashion. This is not necessary. The simple act of exploring faith, dwelling in God’s revelation, or getting to know God better through His revelation is doing theology.

Theology is the language the Church uses to communicate within the body. The dialogue theology provides allows the Church to change as the times demand without losing the essentials of Church life. This dialogue within the Church is a vehicle the Holy Spirit uses to work in and through the Church.

Ultimately, theology is necessary to fulfill God’s most basic command to Christians. In order to share faith with others, Christians must have first processed what has happened in their lives into words. This is theology in its most basic form. The more Christians do theology the more effective witness will be to a greater amount of people.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I need words...

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” –Romans 8:26,27

We live in a fallen world that is far from the way it should be. All creation groans as it waits to be made whole again. We groan too, as we wait for the day when we shall be with God again in a place where we were meant to be. In the meantime, we wait, and as we wait we pray. Often the suffering and pain we witness and experience in this world is too much for us, and the words fail us. How should we pray? What is God’s will for this situation? What should we ask for? What words will suffice to help a given situation?

We can rest in the fact that the Spirit of God Himself is with us and prays for us in our insufficiency. He takes the words, and silences, and molds the prayers we need to utter. It is not just the intersession we offer for others though. He prays for us. We suffer in a waiting room now, but we a safe in knowing the future that awaits us. As God Himself prays for us, and circumstances in our world are molded for our good, we know nothing can take us away from Him.

“Let us not grow weary in doing good.” Let us not cease to pray because we lack the words or wisdom to know how to pray. God desires our prayers and the work of prayer is not dependant on us. Remain faithful in doing that which God desires, rest in the knowledge that God will bring the results that He desires.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.” –1 Corinthians 14:15

Many people today consider themselves “spiritual” but don’t like to make a choice as to which religion they agree with. They don’t want to get into “all that theology.” They would say that it is not so important what you believe, but rather how sincerely you believe it.

The truth is that faith, and other spiritual matters like worship and prayer, are not just matters of the spirit, but of the mind as well. It is very important to know what you believe and why your believe it. Quite simply, in this world there are things that are true, and there are beliefs that are not true. Sincerity does not a truth make.

This is why Theology is so important. Jesus once said that true worshipers were those that worshiped in “spirit and in truth.” To worship in truth, we must pay attention to what we do. When we sing, are the words true? When we pray, are we praying in accordance with what we know to be God’s will? Do we regularly read and study the truth of God’s word?

C. S. Lewis said that the Christian Faith is like a giant ocean of knowledge and experience. Are we content to simply float about aimlessly in it, never going anywhere and never growing in our understanding? Or would it not be better to spend our lives exploring as much as we can of it, getting to know all we can of God’s love and His plan for our lives?

Let your relationship with God be spiritual, for He is spirit, but be a thinking Christian as well, for He is the God of truth.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Acts: Peter's Vision, Yes Another One (10:9-11:18)

It seems that Peter went up onto the roof to pray around lunchtime and went into a trance. That hardly seems like an unusual experience. He was hungry, and it was warm. Add to that the fact that his vision was about food, and you can imagine what most people would think. In fact, the only thing that makes this more than low blood sugar is that, when he wakes up, the Spirit tells him exactly what is about to happen.
See, the vision was one of God telling Peter to do something deeply offensive to his religious convictions. Right after his vision he is told to do something else just as offensive—go hang with some Gentiles. God was telling Peter that he was about to be used to completely alter the trajectory of the Gospel from what the early believers had expected.
How can this experience be translated to today’s evangelical culture? Suppose you had a vision one day of a giant sheet coming down from heaven covered in all those words you used to get your mouth washed out with soap for using, and you heard God saying “take and use!”

“No, Lord! Those words have never crossed my lips! At least not most of them, and some only slipped out from time to time when I hurt myself!”

After seeing that vision, you are asked to move to a culture where the language is harsh and the vocabulary is coarse, even among people who believe. Would you go in sharing the Gospel of God’s grace and let the Spirit change people’s lives? Or would you go in preaching the gospel of evangelical legalism and let those people know there is a special place in hell reserved for people who don’t use acceptable euphemisms like poop or number two?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Television: Serious Thinkage

J.R.R. Tolkien sat down one night and wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” and a whole genre was born. On a four-hour train delay, J.K. Rowling suddenly envisioned a boy in a wizard’s school, and publishing history was made. Joss Whedon took a well-known horror story cliché and turned it on its head. What if a little blonde girl walked into a dark alley at night and ended up killing the monster that attacked her?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the best examples in the history of television of using a “genre show” to address serous issues ranging from politics to philosophy and theology. It has become a popular show in the academic world, used for studying everything from sociology to language. It was truly one of the best-written shows on television.

There are a lot of issues that many will find objectionable to be sure, so viewer discretion is advised. That being said, episodes range from comic genius to disturbingly scary to both at the same time. The true value of the series lies in the thought provoking episodes. Early in the second season Buffy revealed its decidedly moral take on life. In a two-part episode, Buffy decides she loves her boyfriend enough to lose her virginity and all hell breaks loose, literally, for the rest of the season. In the Buffy universe, decisions have serious consequences that sometimes haunt the characters for the rest of the series.

This is not a Christian show, and it takes stands on some issues that are decidedly non-Christian. It is, however, a serious and searching show and as such is helpful for understanding and engaging today’s culture when it come to important and sometimes touchy topics.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Top Films: Decent People Shouldn't Live Here

Tim Burton’s version of Batman is greatness, but maybe it ought to be called Joker. As usual, the story is about Batman’s enemy, and in this case he is pure evil. A good working definition for evil is: “an absence of good.” Evil is destructive, scary and wrong, but it ultimately is a Nothing, and that is what the Joker is in this movie. He is messed up and in a way, empty. When Jack becomes the Joker he goes from being a sick psycho to being a sicker, scarier psycho. The depiction of evil as senseless and without excuse is what makes this version of Batman so effective.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Top Films: What Defines A Man?

Some stories can sustain a retelling every couple decades or so. Batman has such a story. Most of his stories are really about some new villain or solving a puzzle, but the real compelling story is how Bruce Wayne became Batman.

A boy’s parents are shot dead right before his eyes. He grows up seeking revenge but calling it justice. He travels the world preparing to fight crime and destroy the wicked. Failing in his initial attempts, he learns that fear is his most powerful weapon and assumes the character of Batman.

Nolan’s Batman Begins joins other recent comic book adaptations showing a “realistic” take on the superhero story. Of course, Batman is the most suitable of all superheroes to attempt this with, as he has no fantastic powers— just cunning, discipline, and unlimited resources.

There are two things to attract people to this story seventy years after it was created. The idea of taking on bad guys and making things right is one appealing aspect. The other has to be the money. Having so much money does not bring happiness, but using it to create the ultimate secret hide out and all those gadgets has got to help.

This is where Batman Begins really delivers. We see the elaborate way in which Bruce Wayne creates Batman, and it is absolutely believable. Well, absolutely plausible anyway. His personal journey to becoming Batman is good too. Bruce starts out a boy who lost his parents before he could learn what it means to be a man. He ultimately learns that we are not defined by the good things we think about ourselves, but by our actions. That is a lesson society needs to hear in the post Bill Clinton world.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Fair Play?

Once every four years the world gathers to watch a bunch of sports that people will only watch when national pride is on the line. And it is all done in the name of peace, cooperation, sportsmanship, and yada-yada-yada.

There is a lot of important tradition and ceremony involved in this regular worldwide worship at the altars of the sports gods; one of the most famous being the running of the Olympic Torch—across the world—bearing the undying flame from Greece to the site of the games.
That was… until yesterday. The flame was put out during protests as it made its way through Paris. But who are the bad guys here? Is it the protesters who are offended that the games will take place in a totalitarian run country where basic human rights, part of what the games supposedly stand for, are denied? Or are the real bad guys the people behind the games who allow them to be hosted there?
This year will be the 26th time that the games have taken place in the modern era. Instead of bringing world peace, the games have been cancelled three times due to world wars. They have been targeted by terrorists, and have been used by a totalitarian government as propaganda. They have been boycotted at least five times. The people running the games were proven to have given at least one hosting honor to the highest bidder, and other bids have allegedly been granted in exchange for monetary and sexual bribes. All that, and they discontinued Tug of War in 1924!
So in the end it all really boils down to one thing. Competition. Who can win more medals on an international stage in a bunch of mainly obscure events? (Just don’t tell that to the little countries with no hope on dominating, or they will quit coming to play.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Acts: More Visions (10:1-8)

Continuing in the vein of working unconventionally, God uses an angel to hook a man named Cornelius up with Peter, so he can hear the Gospel. Actually, it is less unusual than may be perceived today. Angels have always been God’s messengers—in certain capacities. Take note of a few interesting things about this story:
God sends an angel to Cornelius, but only has him tell Cornelius about Peter. Why not go ahead and have the angel share the Good News? Angels are incapable of being witnesses of the Gospel. They have observed its affects and marvel at it, but they have not ever experienced the Gospel first hand. That is why God requires his people to carry the Gospel. Nature and the supernatural can testify to God’s existence, but people must proclaim God’s special revelation and work of redemption. That is also why the praises of God’s people are so special. All creation including angels can worship God, but only God’s redeemed have been well, redeemed.
Angels would likely be less effective than people anyway. Look at Cornelius’ reaction to an angel appearing. Apart from respect, there is no other reaction. However, when Peter shows up, Cornelius tries to worship him! Never underestimate the impact of someone who has experienced God first hand. The fact is, most people privately consider themselves to have experienced something “unexplained” or “supernatural.” It is not as big a deal as some might think. An angel would not make big difference to most. In fact, a lot of people have met angels and never known it.
All that being said, know that God does use angels, visions, dreams, and other strange things to get people into a position to hear the Gospel. It happened in the Bible and it happens today.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Television: X Marks the Spot

The philosophy-on-film craze of the late nineties had its beginning earlier in the decade with the airing of a strange new show called The X-Files. TV has never been the same since. It brought sci-fi and horror into the mainstream. It created a whole “supernatural” wave in television that continues to this day. It had the courage to blend humor with horror. It paved the way for shows like CSI to show those gut-wrenching autopsy scenes. All that, and it blended the normal “stand alone” episodic drama with an ongoing series “mythology.” So many series do this today that it has almost become the standard practice.

But the real genius behind the show’s success and effectiveness lies in the main characters: Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. He is the faith; she is the reason. Their approach to investigation is a reflection of the show itself. It presents the supernatural as something real, and demonstrable up to a point, but it never allows the mysteries to be fully explained. To cloud the issue even more, Mulder is the atheist, and Scully the questioning Catholic who in spite of it all keeps her faith in God.

The best episodes are too many to list, but a couple deserve special mention in that they deal with epistemology from a postmodern perspective. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space is a tour-de-force, presenting a story from multiple perspectives. In the end no one, not even the viewer, knows what really happened. In Bad Blood, Mulder and Scully give their own conflicting reports of an incident in a small Texas town involving vampires.

The episodes that don’t quite work make you think, but the ones that do… are some of the best television ever made. The scary ones are terrifying, the comedies are laugh-out-loud funny, and some manage to be both.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dystopia, the Postmodern Genre?

"The Matrix" is one of the best films of its type, but not the first and last one worth watching. The origin and thread of dark, dystopian, heavily philosophical films lies in adaptations of Philip K. Dick stories like "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall." These stories explore the nature of reality and how perceptions are hard to trust. In the late nineties, several epistemological movies emerged: a couple of loose Dick adaptations in "Abre Tus Ojos" (Later remade as "Vanilla Sky") and 1998’s best film according to some—"Dark City," and others like "The Game," "Contact," "The Truman Show," and "Pleasantville" just to name a few.
"Dark City" came out a year before "The Matrix," was filmed in the same studio, carries many of the same themes, and even has a lot of parallels. The basic idea is that a group of humans are trapped in a city where it is never day, and every night the city is changed around. The people’s memories are altered and they are observed in varying situations in an effort to discover what the Human soul is.
(One of the scenes that makes the movie is where a poor couple is shown eating dinner as the change begins to occur. They pass out and, as their house changes into a mansion, they are dressed as rich people and their memories are altered. As the change is completed they resume their meal and conversation under completely new circumstances.)
The key to these “postmodern” stories of fake realities (and our world as well), is that there is always a truth behind the fiction. While perceptions are sometimes not trustworthy, there is a reality that can be known. The key to success in life is recognizing the Truth and accepting it even when it is hard to see.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Top Fims: Take the Red Pill, Don't Reload or Revolt

“If” is such a powerful word. What if what you thought to be reality was merely something you were being fed by virtual reality? What if you were really a prisoner without even knowing it? What if you could become aware of a reality beyond your senses, and then you were able to mold the lie around you?
What if the Wachowski brothers had decided to let “The Matrix” be a modern masterpiece and not cashed in by making it a trilogy?
Yes, yes, everyone knows that they intended “The Matrix” to be the first part of a trilogy right from the start. That doesn’t make it right. So, just pretend that parts 2 and 3 never happened and… wow! Postmodern philosophy, various theologies, Jungian archetypes, and new strides in special effects come together to create one of the most amazing science fiction movies ever made.
A surprise hit when it came out in 1999, part of the magic today is the way it holds up to repeated viewings. As with many directors’ early pet projects, every scene is layered with meaning and there are no throw away lines. The art direction, music, and special effects are all top notch. Of course, what ultimately makes the film such a treasure is the way it tells a unique story built around what were, at the time, obscure philosophical ideas. (Well, perhaps not quite so obscure when one considers 1998’s “Pleasantville,” “The Truman Show,” and the greatness that was “Dark City.”)

Unfortunately, as with many great works of art, the look and ideas behind “The Matrix” quickly became cliché, but don’t punish the original for the sins of the pretenders—including parts two and three of this trilogy. “The Matrix” is not just good; it is a great movie.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

You Are Leaving The American Sector

Berlin may be one of the most fascinating cities to visit for people who grew up as children in the seventies and eighties. It is hard to come to grips with the fact that it has been nearly twenty years since the wall came down and there is a whole generation of young adults out there who have never lived through the cold war. For those who have, Berlin was the symbolic center of a worldwide conflict.
For nearly thirty years, children grew up hearing about the evils of communism. The idea of yet another World War involving nuclear war and the extermination of the human race was more than just an alarmist nightmare. That war was fought, not with soldiers and on battlefields, but with posturing… and the foot soldier of the cold war: the spy. The front line of that war was the city that spanned both sides of the conflict.
Stories of espionage and intrigue were exciting and adventurous, and they always seemed to involve a trip behind the iron curtain to that land of oppression and terror, where one could potentially never escape. Spies were suave and brave and cunning and everyone wanted to be one, or at least get caught up in a case of international intrigue where national security was at stake.

Today Berlin is a special place of contemporary history, the sight of perhaps the most monumental event of the past 50 years. The only thing that could make a trip to Berlin better would be if there were some difficulty or danger in crossing from West to East Berlin. The wall is gone, but sections remain as a memorial and other famous landmarks are exciting to see in person: Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and Alexanderplatz.
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