Thursday, March 28, 2013

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (2008)

Having recently caught up with the classic film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” I can completely understand Derrickson’s desire to retell this story. It is powerful. It is timeless. It has a message. I am also sure that in the collaborative art-form that film is, things are not all (or maybe even AT all) his fault, but the reimagining done in 2008 is a mess. There are a few visual moments, and a couple creative ideas that really work in this new film, but for the most part it has truly lost its soul.

The original film is a powerful call to peace and for the nations of the world (who were engaged in a real albeit cold war at the time) to find a way to get along. There were subtle hints at spiritual ideas in the film, but mostly it was just a powerful story about the circumstances humanity found itself in in the Twentieth Century.

This new film changes the approach as well as the goal. It wears its religious style environmentalism on its sleeve. And the message is no longer one of peace amongst a humanity at war, but a call to “save the world” at the height of the scientific consensus known as global warming. The environmentalism proposed in this film is even more of a scientific blunder than the particular brand of Scientism it had espoused. One wonders if the filmmakers even saw the irony of having an alien race wipe out an entire species to save an ecosystem?

For a great film, go watch the 1951 version of this story. Reserve this one for the montage of sillier moments from the 00s.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Hellraiser Inferno" (2000)

The Hellraiser series of films looks to be a real waste of time. It is not much more than torture-porn back before torture-porn really existed. Or, at least the first one is a nearly unwatchable mess of sadomasochism. One assumes that the rest of the series continues in the same vein. What it does purport to do is take a more philosophical approach to horror. That is debatable, unless by philosophical one means boring.

Then, in 2000 the franchise took the “direct to video” approach. They also took on a self-professing evangelical Christian director, which would have raised a lot of eyebrows had anybody been paying attention. It also looks like they took a script that had nothing to do with the Hellraiser story and repurposed it. The result is by no means a more watchable film, and it certainly is not a film that “proper Christians” would enjoy, but it is a story with a message.

It revolves around a very, very corrupt policeman. He does drugs, steals evidence, and cheats on his wife with prostitutes. He is also very arrogant and proud of his own intelligence. He is especially fond of solving puzzles. One day he is assigned a case involving a serial killer who appears to have abducted a child. He is determined to save the kid. Only the deeper he delves into the mystery the darker things get until he comes to the realization that he is trapped in a hell of his own making.

It is a bit muddled and completely depressing, with of course the latter being the point. This is one of those horror stories designed to be a morality play. The problem is that it is so dark, depressing, and hopeless that there is never any chance that the character could make a choice that would redeem things. That is where modern horror often veers away from morality into nihilism.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (2005)

More of a court room drama than a horror film, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is an exploration of belief. There is a statement in the film, “Demons exist whether you believe in them or not.” Actually, the idea should be expressed, “Reality is reality, no matter what you believe about it.” The fact is that our beliefs about the world do not influence it one way or the other. God exists or He doesn’t. It is not our beliefs that cause Him to be. The flip-side of that truth is also valid. Not believing in God will not make Him go away if He is indeed real.

Where this film really manages to lose its way is when it comes to the reason Emily believed she was possessed. The story being told is that of a devout catholic girl who becomes possessed by demons when she goes off to college. Exorcism fails and she ends up dying. Her priest is put on trial for manslaughter. In the course of the trial we learn that Emily asked God why she was allowed this hardship, and why attempts to cast the demons out were unsuccessful. We also hear that she had a vision giving her the answer. She claimed that God’s purpose behind the possession was to show the world that the Devil is real; therefore leading people back into a belief of God.

If that were really God’s plan, it would be one of the stupider ones people have attributed to Him. This film shows clearly that people will go out of their way to explain away anything that does not fit into their belief system. Presumably God could even take a more direct approach and show Himself or His power and people would still deny His existence. And the idea that a real, demonstrable devil would influence what people believe about God is not a valid assumption.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Conclusion (1 Timothy 6:20,21)

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.”

In the last, tiny paragraph of this first letter to Timothy, Paul summarizes the two main themes of the whole letter. The Gospel held up against religious knowledge.

Being a pastoral, most think that the main theme of Timothy is leadership. That is only true in so far as leadership is a key in keeping the teaching ministry in the church on track. The true main theme of Timothy is sound teaching. And that means passing the truth of the Gospel on to future generations of believers. The Gospel is not some intellectual concept that we develop and expand upon. It is a truth that we receive and believe in a way that impacts every other aspect of our lives. It is the basic teaching in the church and also the most complex and all encompassing story that we will never fully understand in our lives.

Against that idea, and the secondary theme of the letter, is the reminder that the church is not about discovering new, deeper, greater truths about life that have never been understood before. It is not a place where we find secrets that are hidden and waiting to be uncovered. Spiritual leaders with wonderful, new systems—offering the latest, greatest key to a successful life are actually wolves in sheep clothing. It is the job of church leadership to guard against such ideas and the people selling them.

The Gospel is only received in faith, something that requires and inspires action; knowledge and academic religion is impotent, ineffective, and empty. Unfortunately it seems that much of the Church these days is all about knowledge and ideas instead of truth and action.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tim Burton Ranked

Tim Burton has been giving audiences diminishing returns as the years have gone by, but 2012 saw him release at least one really solid effort. (Albeit a bit of a retread.) I have always considered his films as “must sees,” and have only missed one feature to date. Here is my list of Burtons, ranked from best to worst.

The Good: 
(These are the top ten, the ones I really like. The top three are really interchangeable.)

1. “Batman” (1989) *****

2. “Big Fish” (2003) *****

3. “Sleepy Hollow” (1999) *****

4. “Edward Sissorhands” (1990) *****

5. “Frankenweenie” (2012/1984) *****/*****

6. “Beetlejuice” (1988) ****

7. “Vincent” (1982) ****

8. “Batman Returns” (1992) ****

9. “Ed Wood” (1994) ****

10. “Dark Shadows” (2012) ****

The “Bad”: 
(These are the reviled, but most of them still have something to offer. Some are even entertaining.)

11. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005) ****

12. “Planet of the Apes” (2001) ****

13. “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) ***

14. “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985) ***

15. “Sweeney Todd” (2007) **

The “Ugly” 
(This one is just bad.)

16. “Mars Attacks” (1996) **

Yet to See 

“Corpse Bride” (2005)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mini-Review "The Pirates: In an Adventure with Scientists"

I was excited last year at finally getting another Aardman claymation feature in “The Pirates.” When I asked a friend who got a chance to see it before me, he gave an unimpressed shrug and said, “It was silly.”

Truth is, that is a really good summary of the film. But it is no small feat to produce a truly entertaining, intelligent, but silly movie. And that is what this “Band of Misfits” is. The plot is suitable, but extraneous to the intent of the film, which is really all about silly fun. Most “kids” films are all about getting to a point—a lesson—but this one doesn’t really care about that. Oh sure, there is the whole lesson the Pirate Captain has to learn about not hurting those who care about him in an effort to validate himself before the world. But that is not as vital to this film as getting in a few well placed witticisms and rivaling Monty Python with bits of Plasticine.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Western Christianity's "First World" Problem

It is often said that a flaw of much religion is that it is an opiate; that it is only concerned with an ideal afterlife as a way of taking our eyes off of the problems we face in the here and now. However, an argument could be made that much of Christianity—especially Western Christianity—is wrong in precisely the opposite extreme.

Too many strains of faith within Christianity today are obsessed with things that are passing. From Health and Wealth ideas to social welfare at the expense of the eternal, many Christians have a viewpoint that fails to make it past our final breaths and it robs faith of a vital dimension.

This is not an attempt to ignore the blessings and plans Christ has for us in this life, but it is an attempt to expose a shortcoming we have. Western Christianity is in danger of becoming a system that fails to find its way past “first world problems.” We have it so good in this day in age that it sometimes feels like Jesus is little more than just another religious charm, a messianic rabbit’s foot. Jesus wants us to have our best life now. He wants to bless us with money, the secret to happiness, and the common sense, clean living that will ensure we avoid all of life’s little annoyances.

Whatever complaints you might raise against faith being some “escape” for the masses of humanity that deal with illness, poverty and oppression; it is these people that often have the best perspective on a life of faith. If we don’t want to go to the extreme of embracing poverty and simple trust in God; the least we could do as rich believers is truly dedicate a huge portion of our overwhelming riches, comforts, and free time to really helping people who face a more realistic reality of a struggle to survive. We might improve others’ condition in an exercise of Biblical justice, and gain some much needed perspective along the way.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Lesson in "Twin Peaks" (Season 2a)

As I have had occasion I have continued to explore “Twin Peaks” into the second season. About half way in we get to discover the answer to what most people apparently watched the show for, and viewership began to drop off. However, the solution to the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer was clearly just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot of strange stuff going on in this little town, and it is clearly a supernatural struggle between evil and… well, at least humanity if not good.

When one looks back to the late Eighties and early Nineties, it is probably fair to recognize that audiences were not quite ready to explore these ideas and questions. It was not yet main stream to consider things like the supernatural, and even more “out there” the demonic. It was still a couple years before shows like “The X Files” would signal a change in society to where we would be interested in the spiritual again.

Another aspect that sets “Twin Peaks” apart from other shows that would follow is the David Lynch factor. It is simply weird. That and it has a certain definitive “New Age” leaning. What would become acceptable and discussed a couple years later would be a much more ambiguous approach to this subject matter. Even when we became open to spiritual topics, we have still not embraced any I’ve-figured-everything-out, religious approach.

You need to get people to consider and ultimately accept the strong possibility of things supernatural before you start helping them find the answers about said broader reality.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Shame on Us! (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

[17] As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. [18] They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
(1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV)

This is a passage that we in modern, Western Christianity have deemed as being extra-Biblical, non-textual, or wrong. Either that or we have simply overlooked it. The only other explanation is that we chose to redefine wealthy to mean “Bill Gates” so as to exempt ourselves from this text and others like it. Otherwise, we would have to apply these words to ourselves as being amongst the richest Christians in the history of Christianity.

That would be a bad thing because we like (a) being proud, (b) trusting our money and things like insurance rather than God to protect our future, and (c) we like being able to judge the poor as being poor due to their lack of foresight or faith so as to justify not sharing our abundance with them.

So let’s just ignore this one.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"The Prague Cemetery" by Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco’s 2010 novel is about a fascinating subject. It is the fictional account of the creation of a real fake document, a late Nineteenth Century conspiracy thriller. The main character, and Eco’s speculations of his involvement in the historic events depicted are made up, but every other character and event is based in reality. The document in question is the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and the events that surround its creation are the history of anti-Semitism in Europe in the second half of the 1800s. The forgery was used by many to justify much of the racial hatred in the Twentieth Century, long after it was proven to be a fake.

Unfortunately, it reads a little too much like a history book. It is dry and slow and requires quite a bit of work to slog through. That is unfortunate because the story’s message is an important one. It reveals the way culture and thought can be manipulated to serve the powerful; and it shows how easy it is to shape public opinion through lies. There are a lot of parallels to be seen between the events of this book and the current cultural atmosphere.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mini-Review “Black Sheep” (2006)

When I was in Middle School the guys in my class had this stupid game called “Ugly Pictures.” The idea was to try to draw a picture of the ugliest character you could imagine. Or, that was the way I understood the game. In fact, you were supposed to draw the ugliest picture of a character. My pictures were gruesome, truly some of the ugliest people you could ever imagine, but I always lost. My pictures of ugliness were too pretty.

With the genre “Splatstick” people are sort of playing that game. The idea is to come up with a somewhat obvious amateur horror comedy, heavy on the gore. Peter Jackson’s early work is a good example. “Dead Alive,” or “Braindead” as it is also known, has been called the bloodiest movie ever made. It is also a silly bit of squirm inducing comedy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Manipulative Memes

Memes are the viruses of the idea world. In the internet age, it is easy to think of several examples of pictures, videos, or even just thoughts that have spread like wildfire through global human consciousness. In their most perfect form, they just happen. They are not manipulated nor are they manipulative. They strike a chord and just happen. Everybody knows about the cuteness of Charlie and a bitten finger, or the moving experience of seeing a deaf person hearing for the very first time. “Of course, we all might wish our own mind could produce that sort of impact. However, memes that are designed tend to have less impact, or eventually wear out their welcome.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Brass Tacks of Leadership (1 Timothy 6:11-16)

Paul does again, as he has already done in this letter, in that he turns from critiquing the false teachers to encouraging Timothy to be different. In these six little verses he uses three sets words to pack a comprehensive charge to good leaders.

First, there are the four instructions or actions: Flee, pursue, fight, and take hold. Timothy (and we) is to flee the ways of the false teachers just described. Instead we are to pursue the six qualities of good leadership. We are to “fight the good fight.” And finally, we are to take hold of, or maintain a firm grip on our calling-commitment-charge-command.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Wreck-It Ralph" and the Problem of Evil

It has been a long time since Disney was seen as an innovative story telling company. They have been stuck in a relatively formulaic rut, or been following the lead of other companies for years now. Some of that has even rubbed off on their younger partner, Pixar, in recent years. However, “Wreck-it Ralf” is like a breath of fresh air. In both the creativity of the world building and the mechanics of story, this is the best effort from the studio since at least “Lilo,” possibly Tarzan. It is certainly the best non-traditional animation effort from the studio.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Season 4c)

Season 4b - Season 5a

The reputation the “Deep Space Nine” has as being a show that was largely about religion really begins to be earned late in the fourth season. Nearly every episode touches on—if not the faith side of religious institutions exactly—the cultural aspect of religion.

Episode 17: “Accession”

This is an interesting episode exploring many aspects of religion. More than that it does tackle the issue of belief—faith—when the truth is hard to discern. The “prophets” are gods to the Bajorans, and whatever else that means they are they are beyond the understanding of the Trek universe. That being the case, sometimes belief is based on limited understanding. This is a good parallel to real world faith, and Biblical belief specifically. Much of what we understand is beyond our capabilities. We have to truly exercise trust and take what God says about Himself and His plan on faith. We also struggle with the varying interpretations of that revelation that religious figures propose and in some cases impose upon the rest of us.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Faith vs. Religion

Belief and religion are two things that are a part of the human experience. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have both. Belief being opinions and theories about the meaning of life, purpose, and things beyond the reality we experience with our senses; and religions being the systems or ways of living we develop to deal with the guilt fear and shame that our beliefs induce in us.

The most basic beliefs of humanity are all related to something higher than us. A power, gods, or a god that is somehow responsible for things being. Even those who have turned to a belief in no god admit that this basic understanding is there, they simply have to write it away as an illusion… because it is something every person senses at their core. The second aspect that is universal to all people is the sense that there is a proper order to the universe—a correct way to live—that we all fail to achieve. We know that we do not measure up to our own most honest standards, let alone those of some greater being.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2012 In Film

[Updated 3/9/13]
Honorable Mentions: 
5. Chronicle ***
4. Bernie ***
3. Dark Shadows ****
2. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ****
1. The Pirates! Band of Misfits ****

Best in Horror: 
4. Paranorman ***
3. The Woman in Black ***
2. Sinister ****
1. The Cabin in the Woods ****

The Best Overall:
10. Safety Not Guaranteed ****
9. Django Unchained ****
8. Hitchcock *****
7. The Avengers *****
7. Wreck-It Ralph *****
6. Looper *****
5. The Dark Knight Rises *****
4. Argo *****
3. Frankenweenie *****
2. Skyfall *****
1. The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey *****

The Bottom Five, The Worst or Most Disappointing: 
5. Brave (Great film ****, but considering Pixar, a disappointment)
4. Prometheus ***
3. The Amazing Spiderman ***
2. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter **
1. The Lorax *

Films I Have Yet to See, That Might Change This List: 
Life of Pi
Le Magasin des Suicides
The Master
Silver Linings Playbook
Wreck-It Ralph(seen, tied for 7)

Monday, March 4, 2013

False Teaching and Success (1 Timothy 6:3-10)

Paul relates this whole topic of false teaching to money in this passage, and it would seem fair in the current culture to include other measures of “success.” Fame, celebrity, church size, book deals; these are all things that people pursue these days. People are often drawn to ministry in the current cultural climate as the Christian equivalent of celebrity, and one way to make a name for yourself as a teacher or pastor is to be controversial. That is exactly what Paul is talking about in this text.

Sound, Biblical teaching can be seen as boring and predictable. When you stick to the basic teaching of the Bible, you are on solid ground, but you are not exactly groundbreaking. You are not telling people anything that they can’t get from other teachers. You are not tickling many ears.

But that is exactly the point. Paul is calling for pastors and teachers to be simple and godly, not flashy and famous. Ideally every community of faith around the world has sound elders that help the body to understand the simple, yet immensely profound truth of the Gospel. It may be the same message everywhere you go, but that is sort of the point when it comes to truth. You want veracity, not creativity. (Not that it is bad to present God’s truth creatively; you just don’t want to be making new stuff up.)

Friday, March 1, 2013

"Sinister" (2012)

“Sinister” is the film equivalent of forcing a kid to smoke a pack in order to deter their desire for cigarettes. Not that ALL horror films or scary stories are bad, mind you. The director of this particular film is a self-professed Christian who has declared horror to be the perfect Christian genre. (And for the most part, this writer agrees.)

But with “Sinister” we get a story about a man who should have taken more care regarding what he allowed himself (and his family) to see. It is almost a film adaptation of that old song, “Oh Be Careful Little Eyes What You See.” It is a not so subtle commentary on the direction Horror has taken, specifically the extreme nature of torture porn. At the same time, it is a very clever and effective nuance of the “captured footage” trend in horror. Most of all it is very scary.
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