Friday, August 31, 2012

Appraising, Spoiling, and Playing with: “Prometheus” (2012)

This is one of those films in the vein of “2001” or even “Tree of Life.” Those highly symbolic, almost poetic metaphorical tales that may or may not have a cohesive message, but lending themselves to many an interpretation. Of course, in the examples above, the former is a bit more “Emperor’s New Clothes,” so not every one of these types of films is smart, they just enable some critics to pretend to be and dare the rest of us to challenge.

In the case of “Prometheus” there is a bit more plot than poetry, but the real takeaway is not the story. The visuals, the atmosphere, and the dread all linger more than the characters or what happens. Since this is something resembling an “Alien” prequel that is appropriate to a degree; but that film also had a new story to tell. This one feels like a bit of a retread.

Not that there is not an intension on the part of the filmmakers here. They seem to want to say something about the whole “Aliens had a hand in intelligent design” theory; they just don’t come across as though they know what it is that they want to say.

As long as we are saying that these films can be played with, here is an interpretation to try on for size:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

50th Anniversary Bond Rewatch "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969)

As a fan of the popcorn, guilty pleasure, mindless entertainment aspect of the Bond series of films, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the films with the company of my brain. Maybe there is more to be found than escapism. Maybe some of the culture and thinking of the past 50 years has left its imprint…

Some fans have this entry near the top of their favorites. Others think it is perhaps the worst film of the bunch. The truth is perhaps a lot less extreme. This is a middle of the pack choice. It is not nearly among the worst, and yet things keep it from really being among the best of Bond. What it is is absolutely unique. Beyond being the only Lazenby entry, it has some of the best fights, perhaps the best girl, the only real love story but also some of the worst acting, amongst the worst of the enemies, and the biggest downer of an ender.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"The Fountain" (2006)

Sometimes an artist has something they want to say, they have a novel way in which they want to present their message, they put a lot of effort and craft into their attempt, and it falls flat anyway. “The Fountain” should play better than it does. The effects and visuals are beautiful. The intricate story is carefully pieced together in a way that it makes sense even though it designed so that the viewer has to work to discover the through line.

Of course, the reason this story does not ultimately work is because it is an attempt to present a message that rings false. It outthinks itself trying to marry various religious philosophies from Mayan thought, Jewish mysticism, and even archaic Catholic philosophies proposed in the film by the Grand Inquisitor of all people. (That last bit is perhaps unintentionally ironic, as the antagonist of one of the sub-plots makes essentially the same case that the film is trying to make, and it rings false is his mouth as well.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Season 2b)

 Season 2a  Season 3a

The second half of the second season of “Deep Space Nine” is really good. The writers continue to tackle important issues, but remember to build compelling stories around them. Some of their plots aim far too high for even Sci-fi suspension of disbelief; but they create enough fun that we are willing to give them some benefit of the doubt. They also continue to take advantage of their unique (for Trek) circumstances and let the political intrigue build and use recurring characters to great effect.

Monday, August 27, 2012

50th Anniversary Bond Rewatch "You Only Live Twice" (1967)

As a fan of the popcorn, guilty pleasure, mindless entertainment aspect of the Bond series of films, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the films with the company of my brain. Maybe there is more to be found than escapism. Maybe some of the culture and thinking of the past 50 years has left its imprint…

Some of the best stories ever told are the ones “aimed” at children but intended for minds of all ages. They have a freedom of imagination and an insight unclouded by too many presuppositions and too much knowledge. One thinks of C.S. Lewis or the stories collected by the brothers Grimm. Roald Dahl would fall into this category of storyteller, although his are full of more delightful darkness and fun observations than wisdom, strictly speaking. When we realize that Dahl and Fleming were friends and that the studio turned to Dahl to adapt one of the Bond stories we suddenly see the whole series in a new light.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Implications of Grace part 1 (Titus 2:11-14)

We often confuse belief with intellectual assumption (Wahrscheinlichkeitsvermutung.) When the Bible talks of belief as faith, it means an understanding of reality that leads to trust and submission. We trust our understanding of reality with our lives and we order our behavior under that understanding. To do less would not make sense, or would reveal that we do not truly believe as we say we do. To borrow what has become a cliché, saying, “I believe this chair will hold my weight,” is one thing, to truly trust the chair by sitting on it demonstrates our faith.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


I am not really a fan of the monkey. I think most people who say they like them haven’t really given it much thought. When I was 11 and lived in Costa Rica, I hadn’t come to my senses yet and still thought I liked them. (I blame Tarzan.) One day there were some guys across the street from our house that had a monkey on a leash. I rushed over to say hi. Everyone knows that monkeys are just like people and friendly, right? I was scratched and lucky not to be bitten. It was my own version of a Santa Claus moment.

That being said there are some neat primates when seen from a distance:

13. Orangutans (species from the genus Pongo)

The first genus on my list of 13 is a good example of what sort of admiration I have for this part of creation. I find orangutans to be fascinating in a disgusting kind of way. If you ever get the chance to see the ones at the national zoo in D.C. do so.

12. Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)

I suspect these guys chatter in a way reminiscent of Jimmy Durante.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Family Traditions

“If that happened, we would turn into ash and crumble away!”

When you hear a statement like that come out of a nine year-old mouth, you take notice.

In our family we have had a tradition for several years where we give each of our children, on their birthday and for Christmas, the next volume in a long-running series of faith-based radio dramas. As a family we must have around 30 volumes covering nearly twenty years of the show. The kids love listening to and talking about the show, they learn nice life lessons and Biblical truths, but the secret ingredient that makes the collection great is tradition. As we approach Caedon’s birthday tomorrow, Cheryl asked him what they would do if we forgot or stopped that tradition. That was when he made this latest in a long series of funny declarations.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

50th Anniversary Bond Rewatch "Thunderball" (1965)

As a fan of the popcorn, guilty pleasure, mindless entertainment aspect of the Bond series of films, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the films with the company of my brain. Maybe there is more to be found than escapism. Maybe some of the culture and thinking of the past 50 years has left its imprint…

For a long time, this was my favorite old Bond film. I still find aspects of it incredibly fascinating. When this movie was made, scuba technology had only been available for a decade or so, and this was a brave new world of exploration. Knowing that one can appreciate just how amazing the gadgets for this Bond film were in the eyes of its first audiences. They were exciting and new, but they were real!

So, in a more realistic setting than the last film, but still a more fantastic world than the dramatic reality of “From Russia with Love,” we have here the pinnacle of Bond as reality action… at least until the newest incarnation of the spy some 40 years later. You can see why it would be considered the cream of the crop. These movies are always technical achievements of editing, effects and cinematography.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"The Wrestler" (2008)

I have been intrigued with the premises of a couple Darren Aronofsky films for some time. So when I saw a three-pack of his films in the discount section of my local DVD provider, with both films included, I snatched it up. The unintended consequence of that purchase was that it gave me a chance to see what a lot of people deemed to be the best film of 2009. I cannot count myself among them.

It is true what a lot of people are saying, including Aronofsky himself, that this film and “Black Swan” are thematically related. At a basic level they are telling the same story. However, whereas “Black Swan” is bizarre and imaginative, “The Wrestler” is downright mundane and depressingly realistic. Other deviations: virginal and repressed vs. oversexed and indulgent, precise and composed vs. improvised and chaotic, leaves one in need of counseling vs. leaves one in need of a shower.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Reason I Love "10,000 Reasons"

There are some songs intended for worship that I simply can’t sing. They are the best ones. When they are played my throat just won’t function properly and I am just overwhelmed with the thoughts of who God is and what He has done for us. I suppose in those moments I am worshiping more in spirit than in the moments where I am able to sing properly. (Does that fact that the Hebrew language used the word for throat as interchangeable for soul have anything to do with this same phenomenon?)

Monday, August 20, 2012

50th Anniversary Bond Rewatch "Goldfinger" (1964)

As a fan of the popcorn, guilty pleasure, mindless entertainment aspect of the Bond series of films, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the films with the company of my brain. Maybe there is more to be found than escapism. Maybe some of the culture and thinking of the past 50 years has left its imprint…

This is the one that really got the ball rolling. The first two films were successes, but “Goldfinger” was a phenomenon. From here on out the tone had been set. We were not dealing with a spy or a serious attempt at storytelling. Bond would be a superhero in a science fictional (albeit barely) universe. A great many of the memorable details and quotes associated with Bond come from this film. It is a classic in many minds. That being said, you can’t think about things too much. These films are meant to be enjoyed like a roller coaster. It is supposed to be about thrills. If you begin to analyze things too much (as we have set out to do here) they fall apart.

Bond has become a passive character. He does very little in this film. He just happens to be in the right place at the right time, and even then he is not active in changing anything. This fact is pretty clear throughout the film once you look for it, but it is perhaps most evident at the film’s climax in Fort Knox. As the bomb ticks its way down toward zero and the obliteration of the economic foundations of the world, Bond studies it in desperation. He has no idea what he should do. Finally he decides to trust his luck and prepares to rip some wires apart, but he is saved just in the nick of time as someone who knows what they are doing turns the thing off.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Humble Authority (Titus 2:15)

“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

This is a good word for sound leadership, I suppose. One of the characteristics or qualities of someone who is a good leader is genuine humility. Generally anyone who is convinced that they are the best person to lead anything has already demonstrated a character flaw that puts their qualifications in doubt. This is especially the case in endeavors that resemble religion. The last person you want in charge of a spiritual endeavor is someone who thinks they have all the answers and is ready to tell everyone else exactly how to think and live.

That being said, if you can find a truly qualified individual for leadership, their natural humility and healthy self-awareness will require that they be reminded that they do need to lead. There are some basic truths, some understanding of vision and purpose that need to be clearly communicated. Every community of believers is always in danger of straying off course, of becoming distracted from their reason for being. There are just so many ways to make a church ineffective through the temptation of the good. There are so many good things that a church can do that have nothing to do with God’s mission. Leadership needs to keep the vision and purpose front and center at all times.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sight and Sound 2012

Rather than come up with a new list this week, I have to direct people to the Sight and Sound 2012 list. It is a must see for anyone interested in film, especially those wanting to educate themselves about the great films of all time. This is considered by many to be the most important list of films, and it is updated every decade. For the first time since the second Sight and Sound list, “Citizen Cane” has been toppled. While that is a great film, I don’t particularly like it so I was happy to see “Vertigo” take the top spot. Of the top 250 films nominated this decade, I have only seen about 65, so I have my work cut out for me.

Check it out here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

“Red Lights” (2012) with some spoilers

Movies about “paranormal events” are often of high interest to people concerned with spiritual matters. Whether they try to tell a story about the validity of Spiritualism or are more on the debunking side of things, they explore the supernatural side of reality. Of course most fall far short of being truly engaging. They are either too fantastically silly or they have a chip on their shoulder about there being anything unexplainable in the world. In any case, when they aren’t intelligent they may still provide some entertainment.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

50th Anniversary Bond Rewatch "From Russia with Love" (1963)

As a fan of the popcorn, guilty pleasure, mindless entertainment aspect of the Bond series of films, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the films with the company of my brain. Maybe there is more to be found than escapism. Maybe some of the culture and thinking of the past 50 years has left its imprint…

After they threw together the ultimate escapist mix of exotic locals, sex and adventure without much thought to story and struck a chord with audiences in 1962, the producers of “Dr. No” wasted no time in churning out the next entry in the series. For some reason, however, they decided to put some thought into the plot this time around. The result is one of the best films in the franchise, but one that a lot of modern audiences don’t have the patience to endure. Does that say that our modern idea of action doesn’t mix well with logic? Do we simply want thrills without story? Or does “From Russia with Love” suffer from outdated film technique?

In any case, the plot this time around takes the shock to a new level. It is not exactly a new plot. The idea of a country asking a woman to trade her body for national security had been told nearly two decades before in Hitchcock’s “Notorious.” This time around, however, that idea is not told to cause the audience to contemplate the extremes and even excesses that “national security” can demand, but as another excuse for hedonistic fun. The film again presents the idea that espionage and the “Cold War” is more of a game than a war, and the name of the game is sex. That scene in “Dr. No” where an enemy driver would rather commit suicide than tell Bond any of his secrets is even more out of place now than it was back then.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Pi" (1997)

A film noir about the mysteries of Pi and the Golden Ratio and other theoretical, mathematical enigmas has no business being watchable. If you add in things like shadowy economic conspiracies and fringe religious mystical orders it should make things even worse. Now have the whole thing told in an intensely claustrophobic perspective with internal monolog narrating most of your story and you should have scared off even the most dedicated of art house film geeks. Even so, 1997’s “Pi” is strangely engaging.

I know that if the majority of the people who read my blog take this review as encouragement and seek this film out to watch they will likely be let down and let me know what a bad recommendation I have made, so let me be clear: This film is not as accessible as it sounds. Even so, I think it might be a great film.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Season 2a)

"Hands" - Season 2b

Season Two of “Deep Space Nine” continues the objectives of the first season. It is as socially minded, and idealistic as its predecessors, but with a more realistic attitudes towards human weaknesses and sin nature. It still is heavy-handed and preachy like season one, but it is not quite as noticeable. The story quality has picked up a bit:

Episodes 1-3 “The Homecoming” “The Circle” “The Siege” 

This is something unseen before in Trek, a drawn out political story with intrigue and deception covering three connected episodes. From all indications, it is a foretaste of things to come as the series appears to build an elaborate and overarching political, religious and martial epic. Roddenberry’s vision of the future had humanity (or the galactic community) getting past all of that, but most storytellers know that (a) that is boring because it doesn’t really teach anything about reality and (b) human nature—sin nature—makes it unlikely that we will ever be past that.

Monday, August 13, 2012

50th Anniversary Bond Rewatch "Dr. No" (1962)

As a fan of the popcorn, guilty pleasure, mindless entertainment aspect of the Bond series of films, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the films with the company of my brain. Maybe there is more to be found than escapism. Maybe some of the culture and thinking of the past 50 years has left its imprint…

“Dr. No” is a bit of a mess. The plot is barely strung together enough to sustain all of the action. This is not quite a James Bond film yet, not in the way they would come to be known, but it is close. As far as spy stories or even mysteries go, it is not developed enough to really give one insight into the mindset regarding the “Cold War” of the early 60s. Then again, maybe that is itself an insight. Either the conflict was so stressful that people needed a light-hearted, glamorous spin on things, or it wasn’t perceived to be serious enough for people to worry about. To have “Dr. No” tell it, espionage in the Cold War was all about adventure and hedonism. The conflict was just background.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sound Doctrine (Titus 2:1-14)

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”

Rather than “rules of men” or myths, Titus and other leaders are encouraged to teach only the sound doctrine of the gospel. Instead of rules, Paul lists qualities and characteristics of godly living. The legalist would try to create and exhaustive list of behaviors to be followed; answers to every conceivable circumstance that a believer could face. Paul calls for a harder, but more reliable guide for integrity. Instead of saying, “don’t drink,” he says, “be temperate” and “not slave to too much drink.” Instead of rules about interpersonal relations he urges “be sound in love.” Instead of encouraging elders and leaders to enforce behaviors, he calls on them to be examples and to teach what is good. Instead of calling on believers to struggle to try to change the injustices in the fallen world around them, he urges them to live in such a way as to “adorn the doctrine of God” and so that no one would be able to say anything bad against them.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

21 Best Superhero Movies So Far List

To qualify for this list, the film must be about a hero that combats evil as a costumed, alter ego. So, certain superheroes like Blade, Hellboy or James Bond are not considered.

21. “Superman 2” (1980) Richard Donner 

As a 7 year old taking the family out to the movies this was pretty incredible. It might have been my first superhero film. It still holds up OK but there is a lot of nostalgia in this pick.

20. “The Mask of Zorro” (1998) Martin Campbell 

An inspiration for the best hero imagined is a pretty good superhero himself.

19. “Superman” (1978) Richard Donner 

This film really brought superheroes to the big screen for the first time respectably.

Friday, August 10, 2012

"The Amazing Spiderman" (2012)

People scoffed when it was announced that the Spiderman franchise of films was about to be rebooted. After all it had been less than a decade since the series had started. Then again, stories about Spiderman are released in comic form monthly and have been for decades, so why shouldn’t multiple and frequent films be doable?

The verdict? 2012’s “The Amazing Spiderman” is, from a technical standpoint, far better than the earlier films. Effects have advanced. However, it is also better in other ways. The characterization of Peter Parker is more appealing and in many ways closer to the comic book version of the character. The villain is not as iconic, but more cinematic and impressive.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Demonstration Sports

One of the coolest things about the Olympics is the way it puts fringe sports on the radar. Once every four years the world remembers that there are more than just three or four games that people play, and we get to enjoy the best of the best of those other sports. Of course some of the neatest are not even popular enough to make an appearance at the Olympics. For some of them one has to turn to the World Games or other international events, but sometimes you get the treat of new sports being tried at the Olympics as demonstration sports. Well, that hasn’t happened either for twenty years.

Some of the more interesting sports in the history of the Olympics have only ever been demonstration sports: Ballooning, Angling, Cannon Shooting and Fire Fighting were all at the 1900 games in Paris.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Invictus" (2009)

It never ceases to amaze just how much sport can do. In the case of this true story, a nation that was hopelessly torn apart by racial prejudice and injustice began the move towards reconciliation and forgiveness by uniting behind the national rugby team. This film shows us the wisdom of Mandela. He knew that his nation’s future required reconciliation instead of revenge. He knew that he needed all of the people to come together—both the majority now free and the minority that still held most of the real power. He alone saw the opportunity that the World Cup was offering.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Extraordinary Purpose

There is an inspirational ad running during the games this year. In it we hear several athletes—the best people in the world at what they do—talk about the dedication that their purpose requires of them. It is impressive the sacrifices and commitments they make, all for a two week moment in their lives. Actually, in many cases it is all aimed at a matter of minutes.

How much should we dedicate to the extraordinary purpose for which we each have been created? If you are a follower of Jesus, you believe that your life—your whole life and not just a moment—is a part of God’s plan. You have a purpose.

Monday, August 6, 2012

NonModern Nugget: Grace and Sin

God’s people are not the answer to the world’s sin problem. But as sinners, we can sure contribute to making things worse.

God in His love has provided the only solution: grace.

If you are a follower of Jesus you should understand the fact that you did not earn His love through your holiness. The very possibility that you can approximate a lifestyle that pleases Him is only possible by means of His grace, forgiveness, and power.

When we try to force a holy lifestyle on unredeemed people with a judgmental and holier than thou attitude, we are not being the people of God. We are acting like Christ’s greatest enemies, the Pharisees.

If you want the people of your nation to live lives pleasing to God: love them. Share His story of love with them. Then and only then can they accept the grace that will make sanctification possible.

Otherwise, if you feel persecuted for your stances you need to ask yourself: Is it because of your faith that compels you to love others, or your hateful attitude that leaves no room for grace?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Purpose of Leadership (Titus 1:10-16)

Paul doesn’t just want qualified leaders in the churches he helped start. He wants the churches to survive and multiply; and they cannot do that without sound leadership and the vision and faith that come with that leadership. Because the biggest threat to a church is always from within; from those who claim to be a part of the faith but simply seek power and control for their own gain.

In this case Paul uses a bit of a generality to describe the nature of the threat that the Churches in Crete would face. It would be from amongst the Cretan believers. However, he quotes the words of one of their own, and it is not intended to be an across the board accusation. (After all, taken too literally the quote makes no sense at all.) The point is that the people the Cretan Churches lived amongst and ministered to were culturally corrupt and the churches would be susceptible to such corruption if it were to gain a foothold.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

NonModernBlog July 2012

Well, the month of July was a crazy busy one and it was all I could do to maintain the discipline of thought and writing. That is to say it was not so much quality as is was just commitment to a personal challenge. Maybe that, plus the holidays and summer routines, contributed to a bit of a drop off in hits for the month. It was still the 3rd highest month of readership. Most of the hits were movie and film related. Here are 9 of the top ten pages read this month:

More Top Films: “The Shawshank Redemption” 

“The Witches” by Roald Dahl 

“Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.” (1964) 

“Mystery Men” (1999) 

True Grit (2010) 

“Hulk” (2003) 

“The Wild Bunch” (1969) 

10 of the Scariest Films I Have Seen 

“Ben Hur” (1959)

Friday, August 3, 2012

More Top Films: "The Dark Knight Rises"

The conclusion to the Nolan Batman story is a great film, but it needs to be understood for what it is. Ever since “Batman Begins” it has been clear that this is not a comic book story. It is meant to approximate real life drama and it does make some powerful comments about things like society, cultural institutions and law and order.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

NonModern Nugget: Missional Perspective

Western Christianity has become excited about the global mission of God. They are obsessed with the nations. It is not a bad obsession, and the teaching is Biblical, but sometimes it seems like the doctrine and practice are out of sync. It is not that churches are not participating in the global mission of God, but rather that they are misunderstanding the nature of their role.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"Batman Returns" (1992)

Twenty years ago this summer, the big thing people were anticipating was the return of Batman to the big screen. Some things never seem to change that much. Think about it. The Batman had just beaten his biggest enemy the Joker the last time around, and was about to meet his most conflicting challenge in Catwoman. The villain of the film was going to claim to help liberate Gotham, but was really just out to destroy it.
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