Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Marine Story and Forwarding in General

Back when people used email, I never forwarded the latest junk mail. I nearly always used to delete the forwards that came across my desktop. In today’s Facebook world I have my system set up to avoid seeing such posts from everyone but my closest friends. Even the “interesting” news tidbit or video is something I post with caution. For one thing, most of those aren’t new at all, and I don’t want to appear to be out of touch or behind the times. (Someone actually posted a link to that “Evolution of Dance” video yesterday! Hello, 2006!)

The one that has been really getting my goat this year is the “Laptop Thief Meets Marines” story. I’m sure you have read it—it is actually from last year. That is the first reason it bugs me. People either forgot they already read this story and are posting it again, or else they are a year behind.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 7a)

This post is inspired by the ongoing Buffy Re-watch being conducted over at Nik at Night. Check them out for a better, more detailed look at each episode every Tuesday.

<--Season 6b    Season 7b-->

Buffy recovered from the near stumble that was season six with a near return to form. Whereas Six had been an examination of real life and the mundane challenges everyone faces; Seven would examine something just as universal, but a bit more challenging: the nature of evil itself. Buffy and co. would face off against the Buffyverse version of the Devil—evil personified. How would that look? It will take the second half of the season to really understand “The First,” but we do get glimpses of It here. The problem with this season, and particularly the first half of it, is that so little develops over the course of each episode. The show has taken on a more soap opera pace where one story flows over the whole thing and individual episodes do not stand on their own at all. When comparing these 12 episodes to the first season’s 13 one is struck by how little story is told. Here is what we get:

Episode 1. “Lessons”
There are some genuinely creepy moments here, but added together this feels like a minor prologue. The High School is reopened three years after it was destroyed and the ghosts of missed chances or failures from the past show up to torment Buffy. It is a bit too spot-on for a “going back” or “you can’t ever really go back” story, and that is not what this season is interested in anyway so we get the feel that things haven’t gotten going yet.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Further Styrian Adventures: Monsters

Styria is the home to, or at least the source of, some interesting oddities of crypto zoology—what some may call mythological beings. Historical records speak of dragons in the area. “Carmilla,” one of the earliest vampire stories, takes place there; and Stoker even set his most famous novel in Styria before changing the setting to Transylvania at the last minute. In fact, Count Eric Von Stenbock in 1894 wrote, “Vampire stories are generally located in Styria.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"The World" and "The Flesh" (Colossians 2:20-23)

[20] If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—[21] “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” [22] (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? [23] These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23 ESV)

This is a good place to highlight the way Paul uses language in a technical manner. When he refers to “the world” or “the flesh” he is not referring to creation or the material side of humanity. That is what the Gnostic leanings in our thought and teaching would understand, but it is wrong.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Critical Confessions

Any “respectable” film buff knows that certain films are simply great. It doesn’t matter if they “like” the movies or not; you HAVE to like them or no one will respect your movie opinions anymore. While I recognize why many of these films are important, here is a list of movies that I do NOT like and therefore do not deserve to be seen as having REAL opinions worth being heard…

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Super 8" A Story Like They Used To Make

With “Super 8,” J.J. Abrams appears to have done the film equivalent of make-a-Spielberg paint-by-numbers, but he has done it very well. It may be a somewhat entertaining experience for youngsters, but for those who grew up in the eighties it is a film like they used to make.

Looking back on those eighties childhood adventure films like “Goonies,” “Monster Squad,” or “Stand By Me” one is surprised that we got away with watching them. Kids in eighties films took on real life and death adventure, needed a good mouth washing, and were not supervised at all. The kids in “Super 8” are the same stock only with modern special effects.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Take a Deep Breath, and Slowly Drop That Turkey Baster!

As we gather around the table and TV today, I would like to make an appeal to all my fellow Americans. Relax. Choose your battles carefully. Slowly drop your turkey basters full of venom and embrace the spirit of the season.

Whoops, sorry, I sort of let one of those key phrases out and lost a bunch of you. I can hear it now.

“Don’t talk about the ‘spirit of the season’ yet! It is not Christmas time! That doesn’t kick off until we all get up at ungodly hours tomorrow to engage in the true meaning of Christmas—materialism and violence!”

I understand the origins of your anger. For years we have tried to deny that we are at our core an utterly materialist society and have tried to be offended that stores start bringing out the Christmas fare earlier and earlier. We seem to insist that Thanksgiving be its own holiday. However, I would like to argue for the idea that Thanksgiving and Christmas should be a part of one, huge, beautiful, two month long celebration of the most wonderful gift ever.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Twitter Experiment

About two and a half years ago I started to experiment with Twitter. I was doubtful. It seemed to be a place for people to broadcast all sorts of life minutia into the World Wide Web that, frankly, I had no interest in reading and couldn’t imagine people wanting to read from me. I was pretty cynical about it really.

However, I was advised that it could be a good place to promote things that I wanted people to be aware of and, even better, a place to meet people in my area of the real world. So I jumped in.

How has it turned out?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 1b)

<--Season 1a  Season 2a-->

Seeing the second half of season one makes me glad to have missed it on its original run. It is an improvement from earlier episodes, but in today’s television programming this series would not have made it into further seasons which would have been a shame as many consider it to have gone on to be among the best series ever aired on television.

This set of episodes has a few more clunky attempts to be too “spot-on” with a message:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Discipleship Dangers

The essence of the Biblical Gospel message, as it relates to mankind’s response to God, consists of repentance, surrender and trust. There are multitudes of people in the world who sense the problem. They recognize evil and sin that is in the world and even acknowledge their own part in it. Where they struggle to accept the solution as the Bible presents it is that they cannot accept that they have to believe in the existence of a good God nor in the fact that they—in faith—must yield to Him and surrender their own will.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Empty Shadows (Colossians 2:16-23)

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ… These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:16-23 ESV)

Every religion has at its core a means of assuaging guilt through behavior—either prescribing things to be done or prohibiting things that should be avoided. At their best they fall far short of doing anything to wash away wrongs that have been done; at their worst they are exercises in futility.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

1970s in Film

Prior to the Eighties, my knowledge and experience of film becomes less and less adequate to do any sort of justice to an annual “Best of” list. Even tackling the decade is a questionable undertaking, but here we go anyway. There are many, many movies of note in the Seventies that I have not gotten around to and that will therefore not make an appearance on this list for now. Among others: Apocalypse Now, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Slaughterhouse Five, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, and Dog Day Afternoon. Then again, they may not have placed anyway.

Top 25 Personal Films of the Seventies:
25. Patton
24. Love at First Bite
23. Family Plot and Frenzy
22. The Muppet Movie
21. The Rescuers
20. The Phantom Tollbooth
19. A Clockwork Orange
18. Young Frankenstein
17. Revenge of the Pink Panther
16. Alien
15. Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
14. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht
13. Murder on the Orient Express
12. Robin Hood
11. The Return of the Pink Panther
10. Death on the Nile
9. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II
8. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
7. Chinatown
6. Jaws
5. The Sting
4. Murder by Death
3. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
2. Fiddler on the Roof
1. Star Wars

What does your list look like? What have I missed?

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Source Code" ...Mehhh

The latest film from Duncan Jones is getting a few mentions on critics’ best of lists for the year. It has been called Hitchcockian by some. Others are impressed by the plot twists and the mystery.

“Source Code” is not as good as its press would have you believe. It is not bad, but it is no great work either. The “twist” if you can really call it that is fairly clear from early in the story. (So far both of Jones’ films have clearly broadcast their twists in the trailers—and not due to poor editing or construction of the advertising. Any previous experience in the genre leads one to proper conclusions regarding the plots.) In the case of “Source Code,” astute observers know who the bomber is fairly quickly due to the editing. It is no coincidence that they keep highlighting—but not focusing on one passenger in particular.

Ultimately, this story is a huge exercise in societal wish fulfillment. We all wish there were ways we could fight the big battles of our time with the benefit of hindsight. It is unfulfilling ultimately because of the very nature of multi-verse stories. Any catastrophe that is averted in this sort of story still occurs in most all the potential—or in this case real—alternate realities. The audience is pleased when our hero averts the tragedy, only he hasn’t averted it. He has simply taken us all along into another reality. His reality didn’t change. He is simply stealing the life and reality of poor old Sean Fentress; and no one seems concerned at all for him in this story.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Mr. Deeds Goes to Town"

Capra-corn may have been around earlier, but “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” is where it really goes over the top and is infused into every frame of the film. Longfellow Deeds is surely too good to be true. The crowd in the courtroom can’t laugh hard enough at every single thing said in the trial. And the snarky, sneaky reporter can’t stand being deceptive from the very start.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Fringe" Season One

I am always looking out for the next “X Files” type of show. It is not enough for the show to be dark, weird and scary, however. Those types of show are a dime a dozen, but most don’t last very long because the true formula for success behind “The X Files” was more than that.

This year “Fringe” entered its fourth season, and that combined with the fact that the first two seasons were available for a steal on DVD prompted me to see how the show measures up. So far, having plodded through the first season the jury is out. In its favor is the fact that most shows usually take a season or so before they find their voice.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Needed: More Grown Ups

If you keep up with news—or even if you just casually catch it in between your sports or entertainment choices—you can’t have missed the biggest news story in the US these days: the terrible occurrences and apparent cover-up over the past 15 years at Penn State. This story hits home for anyone who works with or cares about children, which is just about everyone everywhere.

Monday, November 14, 2011

U2, Divine Belly Dancers, and Potty Talk

This coming Saturday will be the Twentieth anniversary of the release of “Achtung Baby,” U2’s seventh, and in some ways, most important album. It carried them out of the eighties, out of their more purely serious, activist phase into the flippant, fun-loving but still persistently preachy Nineties U2 and beyond.

For me it was a bit disappointing at first. I had heard of them with “Joshua Tree” and bought into them with “Rattle n’ Hum.” “Achtung” didn’t sound like U2, and of course that was the point. I graduated High School less than a month after the release and in college the next two years I couldn’t avoid hearing these songs everywhere I went.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tradition (Colossians 2:8-15)

[8] See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ… [15] He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:8, 15 ESV)

The Gospel is a truth that flies in the face of all of the religions invented since the Fall. It exposes the futility of all traditional attempts to pay down and eliminate guilt in our own efforts. It reveals the fallacy of all Gnostic attempts to make salvation about the attainment of secret knowledge or spiritual “passwords.”

It simply explains the problem that all humanity has and feels and struggles against and then points out the equally simple truth that God has already provided the solution to the problem, for all who will trust in and surrender to Him.

Even “Christian” tradition and interpretation, in all its forms, is contaminated with tradition and philosophy of men. The Bible frequently speaks out against tradition. (Mark 2:22; Isaiah 29:13,14; Matthew 15:2,3,6; Mark 7:5-13; 1 Peter 2:18,10) Even when it is born out of a truth that a person discovers and applies to their life while following Christ, it can become an empty tradition when simply imitated and taught by others. Subsequent generations of believers could place the importance on the practice as a pursuit of holiness all the time missing the truth that had been applied.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Best Spielberg Films?

Last week’s review of “Tintin” asked where it should be placed in Spielberg’s best works without really answering the question. Well, here is the NonModernBlog list of Spielberg’s ten best films. (Incidentally, “Tintin” ranks outside the top ten, in the twelfth spot; and for the record, I cannot include some of his films as I have not yet seen them. Namely: “A.I.,” “Amistad,” “Always,” “Empire of the Sun,” “The Color Purple,” “Close Encounters,” “Sugarland Express,” “Duel,” and “War Horse.”)

10. “Catch Me If You Can

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Midnight in Paris"

Woody Allen’s latest effort is a gem. It is a wonderful and entertaining piece about a dreamer, a man who would like to live in another time. It is about nostalgia and escapism, and a reminder that everyone can become disillusioned with life when they are only focused on seeing the good in other circumstances.

It is also a wonderful bit of escapism itself. Paris is a beautiful city, but here it is perfection that can only exist in the digitally color-corrected world of cinema. The story itself is a bit of magic-realism that everyone would love to experience, and for an hour and a half everyone can.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Religion and Politics

One of the scariest things in the real world is a mass of uninformed irrational people demanding what they think they want, but really what they have just been told that they need. This is why true direct democracy is a scary thing. Most countries that people call democracies are usually watered down forms, such as republics where rule of law—not the whim of the masses—reigns.

In any case, this is also why religion—institutional systems built on faith—should not be allowed to influence or run government. It makes manipulation of uninformed masses of people too easy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More Top Films: "It Happened One Night"

It is somewhat amazing how many times Hollywood can tell the same story and people will pay increasing amounts of money to go see it. Many genres (by definition) do this but one of the worst is the by-the-numbers, predictable-to-the-minute romantic comedy. Instead of investing hundreds of dollars seeing this formula play itself out with interchangeable players on the big screen or collecting the similarly packaged disks that come out several times a year, consider getting one well made one and return to it again and again for your fix of fictional, never-really-difficult true love between the sexes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 1a)

Season 1b-->

Star Trek the Next Generation has a unique place in television history. In a time when new networks were increasing and audiences had many more programming to choose from STNG took first run syndication to new levels of success. At the same time it promised to bring back the sort of television that explored issues and ideas seldom dealt with in the sitcoms and commercials posing as cartoons in the eighties.

That being said, we had to get through the first couple of seasons. Most of the first 13 episodes are a mess where no one really knows what they are doing:

Monday, November 7, 2011

"The Sacred Journey" by Charles Foster

The last book in “The Ancient Practices” series is a wonderful collection of musings and meditations about that itch that we all have—the itch to wander. For some—those who look to “Christian” books as a source of truth and instruction to be absorbed—this book will be a problem. The theology here is speculative. It is instructive and brilliant in places, but isn’t really given in the spirit of unquestionable revelation from on high. It should encourage thought, invite us to stretch outside our comfort zone, and dare us to think about what is lacking in our comfortable, static lives.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Suffering... Again. (Colossians 1:24-2:7)

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body…”

Just when did the American understanding of the Gospel become so distorted? Paul repeatedly stresses the suffering that is a part of the life of those who follow Jesus, yet we seem to actively teach the opposite. Specifically here we see that the apostolic ministry entails a high level of suffering. Yet it is hard to imagine some people who do this ministry today rejoicing in their suffering. Missionaries in past generations were quite realistic about the level of suffering and even sacrifice they would be undertaking when they took the Gospel message to other cultures. Today many people who “feel called” to spend their lives in a cross-cultural context barely make it past the first two years.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

(some of) The Most Viewed NonModernBlog Posts in October

October was a continuation of the explosive and steady growth NMB has seen in the past couple of years. There were over twice as many page views as six months ago. Here are some of the most viewed posts over the course of the month:

The 20 Best Horror Movies 

The Top 25 Animated Films 

10 of the Scariest Films I Have Seen 


Oh Those Kooky Virgins! 

"Fright Night" 2011 

(The better, earlier version is reviewed here)

Let the Right One In 

"Wir sind die Nacht" 

Demonology and Eschatology, Hollywood Style Part 1 

Inception: A (Spoiler Heavy) Critique

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Some movies are not about deep thoughts, insightful lessons or revelations about humanity—some are simply good yarns. For a long time they were the territory of B films and serials; but Spielberg changed all that in 1981 with the adventure film to define all adventure films. The artistry and near perfection of “Raiders” raised that effort to the level of classic, and created a slew of imitations—some of which are actually good.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Gospel Essence

Over time words lose their impact. They become too loaded. Too many differing ideas of their nuance erode the meaning attached to them. Christianity is one such word. It no longer means anything precise enough to truly be used without qualifying. One qualification that has also begun to lose its aim is the old “religion vs. relationship” comparison.

The qualities that distinguish a follower of Jesus from a tower to heaven builder are trust and surrender.

Religion is all about self-reliance. The point of every religion is construction of a worldview that supplies the ascribed with the means to appease the powers that be for wrongs and shortcomings they have committed. Sometimes the powers that be are really just religious professionals exerting power. Other times the individual gets to determine how they apply the religious ideas they agree with or like. Either way, religion is all about saving oneself.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Early 30’s Capra

The early thirties seem like a good place to go for insight in today’s world of economic hardship and increased paranoia. If nothing else, it is surprising to see how compelling, current and entertaining stories conceived and crafted 80 years ago can still be.

Two of the stories Frank Capra worked on in the years before he hit his incredible run of critical success are “Platinum Blond” in 1931 and “American Madness” in 1932.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 6b)

This post is inspired by the ongoing Buffy Re-watch being conducted over at Nik at Night. Check them out for a better, more detailed look at each episode every Tuesday. 

<--Season 6a  Season 7a-->

Buckle up! It is time to go down the tubes of despair, self-pity, and self-destruction with the characters we were led to love for the past six years…

Actually, to be quite fair and honest, I have to admit that I liked this season a lot more this time than the first time I watched it. It has been years too. I had actually re-watched the whole series a few years ago and skipped right over this season altogether then. The “threat” this year is largely real life. And it is true that I usually prefer science fiction and fantasy stories for escapist fun even while they are metaphorically commenting on real life issues. That is why this season is still easily my least favorite. But the issues it deals with are dealt with in an honest and perceptive way.
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