Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kleptomania

(Poetry Scales 39


Jane Leigh-Perrot was a very sick woman
She couldn’t help herself
What she did was wrong, but she was compelled
She had to steal for her health

Ever since her problem was named
By Freud and other analysts
We began to embrace the dubious faith
That wrong is really just sickness

Today we’ve taken things a bit further
As “sickness” carries… connotations
When people do things that shouldn’t be done
They change rules, trade truth for imaginary
…accommodations

Monday, June 29, 2015

Gleam Bean

I wrote a poem
Devoted to a shade
Of lime, slime, green
Self-published it into
The ether of the web
And now it will never be seen.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"The Black Mountain" by Rex Stout (in brief)

I chose this volume out of several available at the second-hand store in Munich because it was the first ever Nero Wolfe book I ever read. What is surprising to me after rereading it, is that I am such a fan of the series. This is nothing like the rest of the oeuvre. It can hardly be considered a case of sleuthing. It is more of a spy adventure, which may explain why the teen-aged me liked it. I also enjoyed Helen MacInnes a lot then too.

While it isn’t much of a mystery, it is fun to see Archie suffer culture shock and helplessness in the countries they visit. A little fun.

Overall it has to be the least engaging Nero Wolfe I’ve read.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Find: A Whole Store!

Arriving at the restaurant too early for our reservation, my friend told me, “There is a used English book store up the street a bit. Want to look around while we wait?”

That is a silly question to ask a bibliophile.

The Munich Readery claims to be the largest second-hand English book store in Germany. I cannot confirm that, but I can say it is wonderful. Something that they have that is harder to find in stores these days are ample amounts of older 50s-70s era paperbacks. They don’t do cover illustrations as beautiful as that anymore.

I resisted the temptation to scoop up dozens of mysteries. I even talked myself out of a copy of my favorite novel, the same edition that used to live on my parent’s shelf before it fell apart and had to be replaced… for now.

In the end I settled on a couple Rex Stout novels, one a 1st Edition. I am just glad this store is several hours away from home. It turns out, lack of access to such conveniences is perfect for a book hoarder. It keeps me from having to exercise control all the time and it makes them so much more special.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"What We Do In the Shadows" (2014/2015)

In a spoof of the “historic” Dracula, the character Vlad in “What We Do in the Shadows” claims that he was known as “Vlad the Poker.” So, later on when he is being taught to use the internet, and he is told that he can “poke” people on social networks, it is an obvious joke. However, Jemaine Clement’s response to this revelation is hilarious. And that artistry is one of the things that makes this mockumentary one of the greats of its subgenre. It came out here in Germany, but I will likely count it as a 2015 film, because it has a chance to make my top ten for either year. That said, despite the extremely effective comedy and the artistry of the production, it is problematic in its outlook.

Like all mockumentaries, “What We Do in the Shadows” pokes fun and satirizes the silliness of certain conventions. In this case it is not real life, but the traditional and more contemporary takes on the vampire myth. And yet, like all satire, it also manages to illuminate some truths, and highlight some errors in culture and society. Case in point, this film like so many lately has us following and sympathizing with vampires, basically symbols of evil. At one point we encounter some vampires that look like children, and we learn that they are going to target some pedophiles for death. Yeah, vampires! And yet all of the characters we focus on in this film (save one) are monsters. They kill people without compunction.

The one character that highlights this disconnect is Stu. He is the human friend of the newest vampire, Nick. Since he is a friend, Nick does not want to kill him and he gets the other vampires to agree to spare him. As they get to know Stu, they begin to appreciate normal activities, and begin to respect him. They almost seem to develop consciences.

Inevitably, however (and spoiler!), Stu is killed by some other monsters. A this point in the film we get its “Existential Manifesto” in a speech from one of the vampires trying to console Nick on the ultimate meaninglessness and suffering that is life. Nick’s response is an incredulous breaking of the fourth wall. His glance at us says it all. That existentialism is such rubbish, and the fact that our culture embraces it in an attempt to make a life devoid of meaning bearable is the silliest problem with our culture.

And, the “happy ending” highlights this disturbing worldview. It turns out that everything is fine because—despite the fact that Stu is dead—he has come back as a monster too. And now these silly men can go on with their monstrous existence.

At least it is a funny one, though.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Church Leadership Ills (1Peter 5:1-5)

Peter lays out church leadership in terms that are, frankly, rarely followed these days. Experience in a myriad of churches all around the world shows me that most churches have more problems than they should, usually because these guidelines are not followed.

First, the elders—however that translates in the church polity you follow—are told three things. Shepherd, or watch over the church (1) with love and freely, not because “it is your job” (2) eagerly following God’s will and leadership, not to improve your own condition in any way and (3) as an example of what all members should be like, not as a boss or a CEO.

On this side of things I would have to say I have seen quite a lot of transgression. The employee model of leadership in institutional church just doesn’t encourage Godly leadership. There are good leaders in churches, but they are sadly few in number.

Secondly, Peter tells those who are not elders or leaders a simple rule to follow: submit to your leaders.

In my own church tradition that is a hard trait to find. Where “priesthood of the believer” is oversimplified and married to the model where churches have “hired help” in the pulpit, there is little to no one following the leadership in the church. Except for perhaps the “good-old-boy” network of men who should be spiritual leaders, but who are too busy breaking Peter’s first instructions to find time to be examples of active church doing its job in the world.

To be fair, this is a collection of some of the extreme examples I have seen in my years and locations. However, the sad truth is that the traditional, institutional, cultural church is plagued with these problems and has—as a result—lost its ability to be church in the world the way God wants it to be.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Magic

I believe in magic.

It is dangerous.
It is a risky thing to embrace.
However, it can be beautiful and amazing.
It can be worth the risk.

To conjure is terrifying because magic involves trust, vulnerability,
     and there are no guarantees.
And, real magic requires a life commitment.

In the world we live in today it has largely been lost.
People still play at it, but mostly our culture only knows
     the superficial aspects of magic.
We play with the fun and showy side of things,
     but most never experience the real thing.
We deal in illusions.
We play with cheap imitations.
We don’t believe that real magic exists.

People want the fun without the pain,
     the thrill without the sadness,
     the benefit without the work.
They fail to go beyond the casting;
     fail to lose themselves in the spell.

The most powerful magic is only experienced
     through the mundane aspects.
It is best seen in hindsight, as the moments lived
     are active and occupied.
Where one and one are one.
Where life is created.
The thrills of discovery are most meaningful at the summation,
     the prestige.

Some magic is easy, some is a struggle,
some sees pain, another sees wonders,
but when done right, all magic is amazing and beautiful.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Star Trek TOS (Season 2c)

Season 2bSeason 2d

At the peak of the show’s run we get some iconic… and frankly silly episodes. These are solid, but solidly ensconced in their time…

Episode 15 “The Trouble with Tribbles” 

Summary: In one of the most recognized episodes of the series, the ship is overrun with adorable, furry, living versions of the pet rock. They eat everything in sight and give rabbits a run for their money on the reproduction front. Fortunately, they also hate Klingons, which helps the Enterprise avoid an interstellar disaster.

Struggle: The biology of Tribbles is hard to get a grip on. So, they basically reproduce the way other species eliminate waste?

Thoughts:

Perhaps one of the better loved episodes because it is so simple and doesn’t try to preach too much. A fun, even silly story where the know-it-all bureaucrat gets his comeuppance, which is something that audiences love to see. (And, Star Trek loves to show incompetent authority figures.)

Episode 16 “The Gamesters of Triskellion” 

Summary: Kirk and Co. are kidnapped by yet another god-like alien (did TOS ever conceive of any other kind?) and forced to entertain them in gladiatorial games.

Struggle: While “The Outer Limits” seems to have done this trope first on TV, Star Trek loves the gladiator games. This is the second of three times that TOS will use this idea.

Thoughts:

Star Trek tends to set up straw gods that it can easily knock down. Here we get the very human yet god-like aliens who are bored and obsessed with violence. That is likely more a commentary on society than religion. Gladiatorial stories tend to be a warning about our obsession with violence as entertainment. Here, there is a feeble attempt to introduce compassion and love into the mix, but Kirk just uses that until he can gain the upper hand and then… violence comes back into play. Thankfully, our heroes are better fighters than the trained gladiators, otherwise they would be stuck on this planet forever.

Episode 17 “A Piece of the Action” 

Summary: The Enterprise is investigating the fate of a ship lost 100 years before, and the planet where they last were is somehow Chicago-style gangland. Kirk and Spock must out mafia the mafia.

Struggle: The premise is interesting, but handled in a very 1960’s TV style.

Thoughts: 

This is another fun episode playing with a good premise. Whether they pull it off successfully or not is up to the viewer.

Episode 18 “The Immunity Syndrome” 

Summary: An area of space seems to be disappearing, along with a Vulcan ship. Sent to investigate, the crew has to fight a solar-system-sized, single-celled organism.

Struggle: The episode really struggles (ineffectively) to communicate the concept of the threat, especially early on. An area of space that is “empty” should really be quite normal. The way Trek “fills” space with stars and life is not very “hard SciFi.”

Thoughts:

Again, an interesting premise if only by 1960s standards. Only catch is that this episode is not playful or silly, but is supposed to be serious. The contrast between the concept and attempted atmosphere leave one scoffing just a little bit.

Episode 19 “A Private Little War” 

Summary: Kirk returns to an “uncontacted” planet where he spent time in an earlier assignment, only to discover that the Klingons have supplied his friend’s enemies with advanced weapons.

Struggle: The monster is both wonderful and terrible at once. And poisoned Kirk is quite fun.

Thoughts:

This episode is pretty up-front in its commentary on the Vietnam War that was the current, and therefore off-limits, topic. Whether it really has anything substantial to say on that front can be argued. Add to that the cool (but ultimately silly) creatures attacking our heroes, and the “MacBethian” sexual politics, and you have a pretty good story.

Episode 20 “Return to Tomorrow” 

Summary: More god-like aliens who have been preserved as mere consciousness need human bodies to inhabit while they build themselves new robot bodies. Only, one of the aliens has other, more permanent plans in mind.

Struggle: Not much.

Thoughts:

When Secular Humanists imagine the eventual progression of humanity, this is likely what they dream about. Noble, god-like intelligence with enough nobility to die out rather than harm others. It is a pretty lame view of divinity once again. Star Trek’s “gods” are best compared with Greek and Roman pantheons, with all of their commentary and obsession with what it means to be human, and little to know serious contemplation on what true divinity could be like.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

LePride

The debates rage in every sport and across generations: who is the best of all time? It tends to be a doable thing to measure who the best athlete in a sport is at any given time, but most debates fall apart when comparing individuals across time. It is a case of apples and oranges.

There is very little argument that LeBron James is the best player in the NBA these days. Especially not from him. He wants everyone to know that he is the best player of all time.

Only problem is that basketball is a team sport, and it involves more than talent. Strategy and game planning also have a lot to say about who wins. LeBron may be the best athlete on the court, but he just doesn’t seem to have the ability that coaches and players in the past have had to overcome the opponent on the court. With this latest loss, he is tied for fourth on the dubious list of players with the most losses in the finals.

The reason people are so eager to jump on the anti-LeBron bandwagon is hubris. (I am certainly not above it.  See here and here.)  We can love a humble and gracious loser, and celebrate winners who aren’t full of themselves. However, we will dog-pile a guy who is his own biggest fan. Especially when they predict wins and continuously claim to be the best in the world and of all time.

“Not one, not two, not three, not four…” Prophetic words.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Jurassic World" (2015)

“Jurassic World” is the fun roller coaster ride of an action film that is the better successor to the original. It makes sense that they appear to ignore the other sequels in the franchise, and have started over with a new take on things. The acting is good, the direction (from the very good “Safety Not Guaranteed” director, Colin Trevorrow) is great, and the story is well constructed if somewhat predictable. But, isn’t predictability what we want in out action?

All that said, there are a few random thoughts and questions that arose as I viewed it. Spoilers ahead:

Chris Pratt is the true successor to Harrison Ford, that rascal, reluctant hero we all love to love.

I don’t know how I feel being manipulated to hate Hoskins. We are supposed to want him to be killed, but the emotions we are meant to feel are really close to the sentiments that we hate in the character himself. Is that a clever twist that the film meant to invoke?

Do we really need a pair of precocious kids as our “in” to the story? I would rather not.

The only unlikable character to survive is Clair, but of course she is not truly unlikable because she is pretty. Also, is the reason she survives because she manages to change and become less controlling? Pratt’s character is not asked to “meet her in the middle.”

I love the nod to the climax of the original film, but I fail to fathom how we got from that story to this one.

I was leaning toward the thought that they had mixed human DNA into the new creature. Especially when our hero claims, “That is no dinosaur.” In the end, it is just a dinosaur—or as much as any of the other animals in the park.

Props to Claire, she kept those heels throughout, even after the trope of Owen telling her she couldn’t manage in “those shoes.” Outrunning a T Rex in stilettoes strains credibility!

We love seeing humanity’s hubris get its comeuppance. But we are terrible at seeing our own pride in real life. These movies have an important message hidden under all the adrenaline.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Even the Good Suffer, But... (1 Peter 4:12-19)

We have brought a world of suffering upon ourselves. We are to blame. Given the choice of doing things the way the universe was designed and following the Creator’s plans, or going our own blind, foolish, sure to fail way, we chose the latter. Every single one of us choses that way, each new generation, each individual. People question why the “good” must suffer, and how can there be a God when such injustice prevails. The refusal to accept that there is a real yet beyond comprehension God based on this incomprehension is a true case of “kicking against the goads.”

We have been imprisoned in our own rebellion. Yet we have a God that suffered for us. He has defeated our rebellion and overcome death and suffering to provide us with freedom. Yet to use our barbed chains—earned in rebellion against God—as grounds for rejecting that freedom is an extension of rebellion. (In other passages of Scripture it is deemed the unforgivable sin.)

But suffering in this fallen world is still a temporal reality. Just as Christ suffered, we will suffer. We have been declared free but are not yet enjoying all the benefits of that freedom. Yes, the declared-by-God-good as well as the deemed-in-the-world’s-eyes-as-good all suffer. We live in a reality where rebellion against God still imposes consequences.

However, if we do not suffer consequences earned by sin, but merely by living in a world full of sin, we can count ourselves blessed for we have the hope of our future. We know there is an end to our suffering even as we just barely escape it on the merits of another. To face an eternity wallowing and suffering in our own rebellion… that would be unbearable.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Horror of Dracula" (1958)

With the news of Christopher Lee’s passing yesterday, I am reminded of his role that was always my favorite, Dracula. Here is an excerpt of a much longer piece in which I take a look at the film where he played that role for the first time:

Audiences were introduced to a new era of vampire films when Horror of Dracula opened in 1958. (It opened in England simply as Dracula in 1957.) The opening sequence had two additions to the genre, color and blood, both of which had not been seen before in the horror film of the previous decades. Horror of Dracula, directed by Terence Fisher, brought to film for the first time the elements of evil depicted in the novel. It is both violent and seductive at the same time. The women preyed upon by Dracula exhibit a desire for him, for the evil that he offers, that had until then been avoided in the vampire film.

Once again, much of the novel is changed. It takes place not in England, but somewhere on the continent. Characters have been through the obligatory changes as well. Jonathan, the first character seen, is on his voyage to Castle Dracula. He is an older man as opposed to the young lawyer in the novel. His purpose in going to the castle has changed as well. Posing as a librarian, he is really aware of Dracula’s nature and intends to destroy him. At the castle, however, he underestimates the threat of evil, and falls victim to the vampire, although he manages to kill his bride.

These scenes are an interesting departure from the usual myth in many ways. First, Jonathan is no victim of chance. He is going to the castle fully aware of the danger and because of it. He intends to destroy the evil from the very beginning. He is also not a "Modern" man. He has opened himself up to possibilities and to the existence of things the world does not believe and can not necessarily prove. Unfortunately, he goes to face the evil unprepared. It appears he was to wait for Van Helsing, but in impatience and out of a desire to rid the world of the evil as soon as possible he did not. At first this might seem to support the need for a community of believers to act against the evil. We will see in fact that this idea has developed some since the movies of the thirties and forties, but not much.

Van Helsing is introduced next. He is Jonathan’s associate, also determined to rid the world of Dracula, and arrives in Transilvania days after Jonathan. Armed by his own knowledge and Jonathan’s diary, he approaches Dracula’s castle. He is too late however, as Dracula is leaving just as he arrives. He does find Jonathan who is now one of the undead, and destroys him.

Jonathan’s fiancée is not Mina, but Lucy in this version of the story. Dracula preys upon her after Jonathan is disposed of, and Dracula’s motive in Horror of Dracula seems to be that of replacing his bride. Only two other characters from the book are present, although changed. Lucy’s brother is Arthur Holmwood, and here he is married to Mina.

The idea of a community of faith has grown in the film, but is still weak in comparison to the novel. Van Helsing is again Dracula’s sole worthy opponent, perhaps even more so than in Browning’s Dracula. However, there is an initiation of another believer, when Holmwood is forced to kill his sister with Van Helsing's Help. In the end though it is all up to Van Helsing.

Even so, there are other themes from the novel that are treated well in this film, some for the first time. The seductive nature of evil has already been mentioned. The sexual nature of the vampire and its appeal is explored as it has never been thus far. Lucy is completely drawn to Dracula and his evil. She awaits him impatiently in her bed at night. The evil is not simply enticing in and of itself, there is a defiant sexual aspect to it.

The supernatural aspect of evil at first seems to be downplayed in Hammer’s film. Dracula does not seem to have any special powers other than to seduce. He cannot transform into a bat or a wolf. However, the element of faith and its importance in combating the evil is shown. Van Helsing expresses a need for help from God in defeating Dracula. In the end when he uses a makeshift cross to force Dracula into the light of the sun, he gets it. In the film, religious elements are used repeatedly to combat the evil. This supernatural aspect of the myth will remain the same throughout the Hammer approach to the story. In all the vampire films revolving around Dracula, the count will remain more human and yet be defeated by God's forces.

In the end, the evil is defeated as in the novel. Good triumphs over evil. This fact is perhaps brought into question later, when Hammer films repeatedly bring Dracula back in sequel after sequel. However, in each movie good keeps beating evil back and Dracula is repeatedly destroyed. The themes of Horror of Dracula, are expanded as each film focuses on the seductive nature of evil, and on the element of faith needed to destroy it.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Comics

Comic books are not an American invention, but (aside from perhaps Belgium) they are quintessentially an American art form. The marriage of story and art is incredibly diverse, and it has entertained, informed, and shaped culture for a century of more.

I am far from an expert on the subject, but I have read a comic or two during my life. I love the way the stories are used. So, I have been considering for quite some time now writing a few (or several posts) on specific characters or storylines.

First a little personal background:

I came late to the world of comic book readership. Outside of the Sunday “funnies” (which I loved dearly and were a fixed part of my visits to my grandparent’s house) my first memory of comics are of a Star Wars book that I somehow convinced my mom to buy me at a dime store. Beyond that I remember some friends having some X Men and Daredevil books in elementary school. However, without having read many books I would have considered myself firmly in the DC camp because I was a fan of Batman. (Ironically, I was never a fan of Superman. And, outside of Green Arrow, I didn’t really like any of the other DC characters.)

In the early 00s, I was writing material for a series of Bible Studies themed around comic book heroes. For about a year I bought several comics as research for that project. Those were the first real comic books that I collected and read with any kind of consistency. Green Arrow, Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Batman were the main ones. It was the year of “Hush.”

Then about three years ago my sons and I started buying a biweekly collection of the major Marvel Comics storylines. These were the most important stories in the Marvel universe of the past 50 years. It has been an education in Pop Culture like I have seldom experienced. Spiderman, X Men, Daredevil, Avengers, and even minor characters like Deadpool, the Punisher, and Ghostrider have all featured.

That limited exposure will make up the background for occasional thoughts I will ramble about in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Thoughts on "Proof"

The new show coming to TVs this month that has me intrigued is “Proof.” It is produced by Kyra Sedgwick, and I really liked her show “the Closer.” It is also a supernatural thriller, and I love those shows and the potential they have to tackle deep philosophical and theological issues.

It is a show about scientists looking for answers where you generally don’t think science has any efficacy—the afterlife. Normally that premise would annoy me. I am pretty disdainful about all those book that purport to tell “true” stories about near death experiences, especially the “Christian” ones. And, I am distrustful of premises that seem to come from the scientism (as opposed to scientific) perspective. However, this one looks like enough of a thriller that I think they will use the premise and the thrills to explore serious issues.

All that said, the last line in the trailer really bugs me.

“You know the trouble with ‘just believing’? It’s too easy.”

That statement is naïve in the extreme. Firstly, the character voicing that opinion is clearly blind to their own bias. If it were so easy to believe, why does she struggle with it? Her position typically comes from those who are too afraid to put their trust in something unknowable. They have to have proof, and therefore cannot rely on faith. Secondly, faith—believing in something one cannot demonstrate or for certain know—is extremely hard. It is quite literally the “narrow way” that few chose to follow. It is by definition, hard.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Olympus has Fallen" (2013)

In 2013 there were two Die-Hard-in-the-White-House movies made. At the time I saw “White House Down” in theaters with my son because he wanted to see one and it was PG13. It was fun. It was silly. It was entertaining and didn’t take itself seriously. I heard from others that I had seen the wrong film. “Olympus” was the more serious film. It was grown-up. It was scary because it was R rated and therefore more realistic.

Now, having seen both, I can safely say about “Olympus has Fallen” that it is decidedly the lesser of the two. It is not really more serious, but it does take itself more seriously. It doesn’t have a silly moment. It is earnest to a fault. And, watching it I came to the realization that this is satire. I suspect it is unintentional though, because it isn’t fun. This film is full of overwrought, melodramatic moments.

The worst bits come from the “heroism” of the president. In “White House Down” Jamie Fox becomes the stereotypical action man. It is stupid, but fun. In “Olympus” Aaron Erkhart makes stupid decision after stupid decision. For instance, he repeatedly orders his subordinates to help the terrorists to avoid pain and death. In actuality, their deaths would end the threat. They would die heroes for their country. Ekhart’s character instead seeks to shoulder all the threat himself. In the end, that is what nearly helps the bad guys succeed.

I laughed out loud during both movies. But with “Olympus has Fallen” I was laughing AT the movie.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Jejune

(Poetry Scales 38)  

Roses are red
Violets are…

unless they are white
or yellow
or burgundy
or any other myriad of colors
some are grown for their thorns,

and while we are at it
violets come in many colors too
though not often blue, but more a shade of

…violet.

For some reason blue is the favorite of many
perhaps because it is so new.
Everyone tends toward the hip and the trendy,
seldom do we choose for the few.
It is thought to be faithful, fanciful, and silly
but cold, and sad, and distant…

(I for one prefer a good green
but that is another subject altogether.)

So, Roses are colorful
Violets are too
And thus begun poems
Are very jejune

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Instructions for Worship (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Peter comes to a conclusion (even though he will continue to write for a while) by exhorting his readers to do four things: be self-controlled and sober-minded, love one another, show hospitality to one another, and serve one another in their giftings. All of this is done so that God will be glorified. In other words, these are acts of worship.

People today have quite another understanding of worship. It is a narrow and common understanding of worship. One that most religions, from animists to sports fans all understand… that of celebrating and reveling in the object of worship. But, the Bible speaks of much more than that in worship. Music and celebration are just a small part. What we do in our daily lives—the way we serve God and others in His name—that is real worship.

Here, we see worship that has us:

Behaving in a controlled, thoughtful manner. Not following our base impulses or pursuing mere pleasure of the moment.

Following the lead of love, placing others and their needs ahead of our own desires. Living motivated by love counters most of what the Bible describes as sin.

Opening our homes and using our possessions in service of other people. We do not see what we have as ours, but rather God’s.

Using our gifts and abilities in service, once again helping each other and meeting needs.

God is most glorified in the worship-service of life, not simply in a concert where He is the de facto (but not always the actual) focus of attention.

Friday, June 5, 2015

"Rico, Oskar und die Tieferschatten" (2014)

One of the more enjoyable movies of 2014 is one that not many of my readers will have seen. …Or had the opportunity to see. It is a kid’s adventure story set in Berlin, based on a German book of the same name. And, it is in German, thus the slim chance that many will see it, as English audiences don’t watch movies in another language, much less kid’s films.

In English, when a kid is super smart we call them “gifted.” Germans call such kids “highly gifted.” Rico is a “lowly gifted” kid. In English you would call that “challenged” or “special.” He lives with his mom in Berlin during a time when the city is in a panic over a serial kidnapper. One day, he meets Oskar, who is “highly gifted.” They become friends, but the next day when Oskar is supposed to visit, he doesn’t show up. Then the news breaks: Oskar has been kidnapped! It is up to Rico to solve the mystery and save his friend.

It is a fun and quirky story, but it also has a lot to say about people with learning disabilities. I wish it would become available for English audiences. The book might be and it is a good read too. It is the first of (so far) a trilogy of books, and the second film is coming out here in Germany next week.



Thursday, June 4, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 3b)


Season 3aSeason 4a

Episode 14 “Alter Ego” 

By the end of the season, I had a hard time remembering what this episode was even trying to do. Kim’s love life is sad, and having him compete with Tuvok for the love of a hologram only makes it more pathetic. The way Trek broaches these holographic relationships is always so uncomfortable. It reads like a different “_graphic” word. And that is the interesting aspect of these stories. They expose the way that porn objectifies people and renders love powerless. The majority of love relationships in Trek are a reflection of this deterioration of love. The individual is so important, that people in relationships are seldom allowed to mean anything to each other. Sexual and romantic partners are interchangeable, and therefore much like porn, meaningless.

Episode 15 “Coda” 

When Janeway becomes mortally wounded, she experiences multiple scenarios where she is coaxed to “go into the light.” As it turns out, it is all a ploy by a being that wants to feed off her soul. All she has to do is resist and he is powerless to take her. It is almost an interesting exploration of an afterlife concept, but it fails to explore the subject as anything more than a puzzle and a trap. It would have been more interesting had this concept reappeared, but it doesn’t so far as I know.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"Woman in Gold" (2015)

In September of 2012 I visited the Belvedere in Vienna for an exhibit celebrating 150 years of Klimt. I saw 30 paintings by Klimt that day, but not his most famous. Now, thanks to this film, I got to see why.

“Woman in Gold” tells more than a story of a painting being returned to its rightful owner, it is another reminder of the atrocities that people committed in the name of an ideology. And I for one never tire of those films, or at least the good ones. This is one even if it is not exactly one of the greatest. The story can drag a bit here and there, but the acting and the directing here are superb.

What I love about this account is the way the past and the present stories are intertwined. And the real highlight comes at the very end when Maria walks around the offices that occupy the apartment where she grew up. This ode to nostalgia and the desire to revisit our past is something about which I regularly fantasize. Everyone who has experienced cross-cultural, frequent moving in life longs to go back and see the places where memories were formed once again.

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