Monday, August 31, 2015

Wes Craven (1939-2015)

I couldn’t rightly consider Craven to be one of my favorite filmmakers. I have only ever seen ten (less than half) of his films, and only really found about half of those to be compelling. That said, at least three of his films are in my top 100 horror films, and a couple made my favorite list of their respective years. I have written about his stuff multiple times.

I find Wes Craven to be a bit of a tragic figure. By all accounts he was a kind man. His films show a man who thought a lot about reality and faith and even religion. Yet there is no indication that he was a man of faith, and certainly no evidence that he was a follower of Jesus. Some may think that that would be obvious considering his art and its themes, but things could have been much different.

Wes Craven grew up in a very conservative, Baptist home. He attended Wheaton College, a very conservative Christian school. And therein lies the tragedy. Mr. Craven grew up exposed to teachings about Jesus. He heard the good news. Or did he? Often times the super conservative skirt over the message of grace and forgiveness and dive right into behavior designed to keep us from sin; and by extension, the need for grace and forgiveness.

In Craven’s films we see a man curious about the world, reality, evil and good, and looking for truth. We also see hints of his legalistic background and the inconsistencies and lies that he experienced there. One wonders if he had really had an opportunity early on in life to truly hear the Gospel story would things have turned out differently. Probably not. With all the exposure he had to the spectrum of Christianity in life, the truth was there for him if he was really seeking. Still, it hurts to see someone with spiritual curiosity to not arrive at the truth.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Diligence of Faith (2 Peter 3:14-18)

Peter concludes his correspondence returning to an idea from the start of this letter: the believer’s diligence. It almost sounds paradoxical, for people relying in faith on God to make them holy and acceptable to work at their change. Are we to see it as our responsibility to work at the change that only God can effect in us? In a word, yes.

We have seen Peter repeatedly speak out against the false teachers of his day. Even though I made the point a while back that legalists have the same root problem as the people who claim that sin doesn’t matter, those are the people Peter is warning us against. He even refers to Paul’s writings with a warning: they are difficult to understand so beware of those who would distort them. Our lives and actions as God’s people matter. In fact, they are the evidence of whether we are His or not. The proof of faith.

The New Testament is clear. We are saved by God and must trust Him for our restoration; yet we are saved to a task and we need to be at it. We need to live the only life acceptable in the face of what Christ has done for us and grow in our ability to please God and follow His plans. And chief among God’s plan for every single one of His people is that we do our part in bringing the salvation He offers to everyone who will receive it. We need to see that this “patience” of God exists so that more people can be reached with His love. And THAT is our task.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Eleventh Doctor Top Stories

Looking ahead to the return of Doctor Who in a couple weeks, I realize that I have reviewed a lot of the show, but never ranked the top episodes. Sounds like a project!

Starting with the Eleventh Doctor, I think I may differ from a lot of fans. I like his earlier stories more than the later ones. Those huge to-do specials that came with the fiftieth anniversary only rank 13th and 14th on my list. Here are my top 10 stories:

10. “The Eleventh Hour” 

The introduction to Eleven, and Amy. Looking back on all of the introductory episodes, this may be the best.

9. “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” 

This story gave us one of the best monsters in the whole series, certainly the best monster design. And it has some of the scariest moments.

8. “A Christmas Carol” 

A charming reimagining of the classic tale.

7. “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone” 

Another great monster is brought back, but the character moments and hints at a greater plot overshadow them. And there is a long-game pay-off scene that is a joy to see play out.

6. “Vampires in Venice” 

The Amy/Rory dynamic is one of the best companion ideas in Doctor Who. And the story that brings Rory onto the crew is a good one.

5. “The Angels Take Manhattan” 

Some of the paradoxes in this story are fun to tackle, but the most important aspect of this story comes at the end.

4. “A Good Man Goes to War” 

This is where Eleven goes from being a goofy, fun character to a potentially terrifying one. We have been told he is not necessarily a good guy before, but now he begins to wonder himself.

3. “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang” 

This is where we get to see just how dangerous this good guy we all like really can be.

2. “Amy’s Choice” 

Episodes like this one make Amy and Rory the best companions ever, and there are a lot of great ones with which to compete.

1. “Vincent and the Doctor” 

This episode transcends the series. I dare you to watch it and not be moved.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Tragedy that Is the IBLP

With all the discussion about the Institute in Basic Life Principles going on (that’s the branch of legalism that the Duggars belong to), I was reminded of the brushes I have had with this group.

Growing up, my parents occasionally used some of the material produced by the IBLP in our family devotions. “Character Sketches” combined life lessons from nature with Bible stories to teach kids positive character traits. Not a bad concept. I especially enjoyed the natural science and the artwork, with was outstanding.

Beyond that, we were pretty wary of the group. That caution started when a IBLP newsletter tried to promote the teaching that any family not cooking all their own bread at home was actively sinning. I am not sure if they had a deal with one of those bread makers or not. In any case, it was a terrible case of Biblical eisegesis and clear legalistic hogwash.

As an adult, I still have one of those Character Sketches volumes. A few years ago I decided to use it with my own kids. We went through nearly all the devotional material deriving teaching from the animal stories. However, after the first week, I quit using their Bible Stories. The retellings were hardly recognizable and the interpretation was terrible. I had to substitute it with actual scripture.

Then a realization dawned on me. Where was the Gospel in this book? Outside of a sidebar in the introduction that literally listed four verses with zero explanation, and a formulaic prayer that the reader was instructed to read ala magic incantation, there was no mention of the Gospel. The teaching of the IBLP is literally a religious self-help organization trying to teach people to overcome their sin problem in their own strength. There is token mention of the help of the Holy Spirit, but that is never really taught either.

It saddens me to think that so many believers have been led astray by this well-intentioned but false teaching. Even worse, I hate that fact that Christian celebrity culture has portrayed our faith in such a distorted way. Is it any surprise that a group telling men to overcome their sin in their own strength (and telling women that a lot of the men’s failures are women’s fault) is failing miserably? That is not the teaching of Scripture; not Biblical Christianity. It lacks the Grace. It is missing the cross.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 5a)


Season 4bSeason 5b

The first half of season five is solid, but not outstanding. There are even some serious topics dealt with, but largely in a cursory fashion. And, as is the norm with more modern Trek, there is a ton of stunt plotting.

Episode 1 “Night”

The idea of an empty vastness of space is probably a lot more realistic than the galaxy we see teeming with life in Trek. The concept of an alien species created to live in such emptiness is interesting, but one wonders how that makes any sense. The message here is elementary school level environmental, which does not make it bad or wrong, just unsophisticated.

Episode 2 “Drone” 

We get to explore all the deprograming Seven has been through in a matter of minutes with the spontaneous creation of a futuristic Borg. Luckily for everyone on the crew, their way of looking at life is clearly better than the Borg’s and this new Borg sees things that way as well. Once again, a rather simple perspective on intercultural differences from a show that wants to champion open-mindedness.

Episode 3 “Extreme Risk”

Trek addresses depression, and does a pretty good job of things.

Episode 4 “In the Flesh” 

Here we get one of those stories that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the big picture. Once again those aliens that they met several years-worth of normal travel in their past has decided that they are a threat and has set up training camps to prepare for an Earth invasion. Why these camps are out here several decades away from Earth—and how they managed to obtain so much information about Earth—remains unexplained. The whole episode seems created to justify an astonishing cold open.

Episode 5 “Once Upon a Time” 

Neelix takes care of a girl who is worried about her mom, all the while realizing that he is messed up over the loss of his family. “The Bonding” from STNG does a better job with greater stakes.

Episode 6 “Timeless” 

Another episode that never happened because time travel. Then again, Kim did get that message in the end…

Episode 7 “Infinite Regress” 

Seven has to come to terms with her demons, or at least all the people she helped assimilate as a Borg. Which is strange because she was a Borg way out here 70 years away from Earth. How did she help assimilate so many alpha quadrant species?

Episode 8 “Nothing Human” 

A great struggle with medicinal ethics. When is it OK to do good with information obtained through evil means?

Episode 9 “Thirty Days” 

Tom violates the Prime Directive in a major way and serves out a big punishment.

Episode 10 “Counterpoint” 

Another media res episode where we meet a whole culture that was simply set up to entertain a neat idea. However, unlike last season they didn’t spend several episodes setting up the culture. It plays like a power struggle between our heroic captain and basically a friendly Nazi.

Episode 11 “Latent Image” 

Trek has come a long way since the days of debating Data’s rights. The status of A.I. is a flux in Trek. If it is the one character we like—The Doctor—we treat him better than the dispensable “red shirt” humans. If you are another A.I., like say the Cardasian doctor a few episodes back, you’re out of luck.

Episode 12 “Bride of Chaotica” 

They have been setting the holodeck environment of Captain Proton up all season long. Just as we knew Da Vinci was going to play a larger role at some point last time, we knew we were eventually going to get our black-and-white 1950’s space opera episode. Unfortunately, we get the bare bones of a plot to justify it. On the other hand, it is quite fun. I could do with more.

Episode 13 “Gravity” 

So THIS is where they got the time differential concept for “Interstellar” and “Inception.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"A Hard Day's Night" (1964)

One of my favorite scenes in “A Hard Day’s Night” involves George being approached by producers of a teen television show. They think he is just a typical teen, or even better, an actor hired to play one for them. They are the trend setters. They are the fashionistas that dictate the fads and create the looks and styles that the young people will buy into.

In the film, the irony is that Beatlemania had taken off, and the movie was being made to capitalize on/feed that trend. So even as the Beatles mock such fashions and the companies that create them and make a living off of them, they were an example of that very teen culture. Maybe the joke was on the entertainment industry, to think they could control such trends and dictate what was considered popular. Here the Beatles were doing their own thing and inspiring a whole generation!

Then again, here we are 50 years later and they may have been laughing too soon. Popular culture today does indeed seem to be dictated and controlled by corporations and entertainment elites. Clothing trends, stylistic choices, culinary tastes and even ethical and philosophical beliefs change and flux following the direction of the entertainment industry.

Monday, August 24, 2015

God's Patience (2 Peter 3:1-13)

Today we would look at the argument Peter is making here and take it a step or two further. People aren’t just mocking the idea of Christ’s return, but of the very existence of God. It is not just a delay that feeds doubts. Two thousand years is a bit more time than most of Jesus’ followers would have imagined in Peter’s day. Nowadays people point to a lack of evidence, and laugh at the “primitive” belief in a God at all.

Peter’s audience questioned God’s delay. We often do as well. Peter reminds us that God’s love and His patience hold His judgement back. God’s desire is that more people will turn to Him. It is also God’s love and patience that keep Him from stepping visibly into the world in His fullness. Faith is required for entry into God’s kingdom. Once He does return everyone will see and know, but the time for trust and faith will be past.

It has been a long time since Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom. Most would have thought by now that the Second Coming would have occurred. Many alive today are convinced that they are in the last days, and by that they mean that Christ is coming in their lifetime. Of course, all generations have thought that. That there is the worst of times. That Jesus is just around the corner. That the world will not go on without them.

Well, in God’s view, the “Last Days” have already endured 2,000 years. They could easily go on for another two, or three, or more thousand. We can hardly claim that we have it worse than people have before us. God’s patience endures.

And yet we believe two things for certain: God’s Kingdom will be fully realized and we have a place awaiting us in it. The world may go on for millennia, but we do not have that long. While we await on the promise of a world as it was meant to be, we are to live as citizens of that Kingdom now. This world is not our home.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

False Teachers Described (2 Peter 2:10-22)

“Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to his vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.’”

Peter doesn’t hold back tearing into the false teachers and their ways. It is pretty clear that the specific teachers Peter has in mind here are propagating a license to sin. They misapply the hint of the Gospel they have heard, and promote the opposite of a correct response. They hear grace and forgiveness and see permission to satisfy lust and sin with abandon.

Licentiousness is an error, but it is generally recognized as false teaching today. That said, the other end of the spectrum is just as bad, not generally recognized as error, and fits the description as well.

Both licentiousness and legalism begin with a small understanding of the Gospel and end in obsession with sin. Legalism is just as obsessed with lust and sin as licentiousness, but it tries to find a way out through behavior and symbolism.

Correct teaching begins with a right understanding of sin and ends in an obsession with the Gospel. When we understand the extent of our rebellion and the sinfulness of our nature, the Gospel is correctly seen as the only hope to a situation that we can never overcome. And, the more we understand the extent of what Christ has done for us, the more our passions and behavior are changed by Him.

This is especially evident in today’s headlines. Prominent figures in the legalist branches of Christianity are being exposed as frauds. They preach detailed legalist approaches to sexual sin, but are being exposed as participants in the very sins that they claim to protect people from. Their system of belief and their practical applications of what they see as the Christian life expose an obsession with sex. Instead of a detailed list of acceptable behaviors intended to save people from sexual sin, they should be focused on the Gospel as the only source of liberation from the shackles of sin. Biblical teaching would have us be focused on and obsessed with Christ, not the sin from which He has freed us.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tarantino Ranked

Looking forward to Tarantino’s “Eighth Film” coming later this year, I have been revisiting some of his earlier works. (Ever notice how he always has two-word titles?)  From least to best in my estimation, here they are:

8. “Death Proof” (2007) 

I never could see the point, really. At some point an homage to bad cinema ends up being just… bad cinema.

7. “Reservoir Dogs” (1992)

This film exploded onto the scene and made Tarantino a household name. It is amazing for what it is. But it isn’t much more than a sketch.

6. “Jackie Brown” (1997) 

Tarantino’s only adaptation of another writer’s work.

5. “Kill Bill (Vol. 2” (2004) 

Tarantino considers the Kill Bill films one single work. This part brings the whole effort down a notch.

4. “Kill Bill (Vol. 1)” (2003) 

This film has an animated segment, but the whole thing is pretty much a cartoon. Just NOT for kids.

3. “Django Unchained” (2012) 

This is Tarantino’s film that makes me the most uncomfortable.

2. “Pulp Fiction” (1994) 

The masterpiece that he almost never topped.

1. “Inglorious Basterds” (2009) 

For my money, this is the best thing Tarantino has done, so far…

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Pulp Fiction" (1994)

Tarantino’s “masterpiece” is still considered by many to be the best movie of the past 25 years. It is certainly considered amongst the best of the nineties. It is currently on imdbs top 250 at number 7. Whether you like it or not, it is one of the most influential films ever made. It changed movie making forever, and solidified Tarantino’s place amongst the great auteurs of cinema, in the eyes of the critics.

“Pulp Fiction” is in Tarantino’s early, pre-revenge films. It is a collection of vignettes, short stories, pieced together in non-sequential order to tell a larger, slice-of-life story. It revolves around a group of mobsters doing the things mobsters do: fixing fights, gambling, enforcing their will, killing people, but also going out to eat and having mindless small talk. It is not for everyone. Some people do not like watching this underworld. Add in some truly bizarre sexual predators and you turn a lot of people off.

But it is a tour-de-force of cinematic narrative. And it is incredibly well written and executed. But beyond all of that there is a compelling story at the center of things.

An event that happens very early in the narrative, but that is told as book-ends at the beginning and end of the film, involves two hitmen killing some guys and recovering a possession for their boss. In the course of their job, they experience a miraculous event. They are shot at point blank. And yet, even though there are bullet holes in the wall behind them, they are untouched.

One of the killers, Vincent Vega played by John Travolta, believes that the whole thing is a coincidence. He goes on with his mobster life, and is ultimately killed a few days later. Jules, on the other hand (played by Samuel L. Jackson), sees it as a miracle of God and decides to change his ways. We see him make this change and attempt to become a good man. It makes the film a story of redemption.

Now, admittedly it is not a strong story of redemption. Tarantino is really more about style than substance. But all of the major mobster characters face terrible, often ironic, judgements. Most of the stories deal in one way or another with death. And, being a postmodern film, there is a whole lot of subtlety leaving things open to the viewers interpretation. But the redemption angle is unambiguous. And, framing the whole movie, you have to think it is the point of the film.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Comics, Creativity, and Canon

The comic book industry has contributed immensely, possibly even spawned, geek culture. Collaborative imaginary universes where stories are told and ideas explored. However, one thing that comics and other books have that has failed to translate into other formats of storytelling (television, movies, etc.) is unrestrained experimentation.

Perhaps it is the cost and collaborative nature of those other storytelling formats. You can whip up a comic relatively quickly and cheaply. Books can be the product of a single artist, or at most a few. Movies and TV involve hundreds of people and hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. In any case, comics have more freedom to play with ideas.

There have been dozens of re-imaginings and retellings of the Batman mythos in comics, for example. Meanwhile, there have only been 3 distinct tellings of Batman in live action visual story telling. Animation adds a few more. It is simply too costly and time consuming to allow for the same level of creativity.

What makes things even more interesting is a pseudo-religious aspect of geek culture. There is an obsession with canonicity. There is something that makes people resistant to stories that are simply stories. They want a self-contained universe where the story occurs and where there are fixed points in plot that impact everything else that occurs.

In part, this drive is responsible for concepts like the multiverse. And, most time travel stories are concerned with propping up this consistency. For instance, in Trek they never freely engage in telling speculative stories that place the beloved characters in extreme situations without time travel being involved. Everything has to have that “reset button” that can get things back to a status quo. Back to canon where no deaths or failures have any permanence.

In comics, on the other hand, speculation and alternate versions of “realities” run rampant. Once again in Trek, we have stories where our heroes have met characters from other franchises: Trek meets Planet of the Apes, or Trek meet Doctor Who. Imagination (and intellectual property re-purposing) are the limit. Yet still, geek culture rests assured in the multiverse principle to reconcile their need for “cannon.”

If one can just let go of the need for some internal consistency and “reality” in fictional creation, it is a lot more fun and the potential for creativity is limitless. Ultimately, you just take the stories you enjoy and leave the rest. That would be a nice approach for Disney to take with their Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars properties. Don’t hold your breath though.

All of this makes it even more amazing the way dozens of independent authors over a period of centuries, often with no knowledge of each other, managed to create a cohesive special revelation that is consistent in message and corroborated by all the historical documents and archaeological evidence that still emerges today. Talk about a canon that stands up to scrutiny!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Tepidity that is “Heat” (1995)

I keep hearing the ravings from cinephiles about how great Michael Mann’s “Heat” is. It is even in imdb’s top 250. I like Mann’s films alright, so I decided to finally get around to it. With Netflix, life as a movie buff is so much easier.

Well, as with the other Mann film that I saw earlier this year, I found it competent, even beautiful at times. However, the story was pretty dull and forgettable. One gets the idea that the whole reason this film exists is to pair Pacino with De Niro, and that bairly happens. It is a perfectly nineties esthetic, and on the whole it lacks soul. (Or, as one of the actresses cast in the film put it, it has no morality. That opinion got her the job.)

When I went to my database to enter my thoughts and score the film, I was met with a surprise. It turns out I had watched this film, 14 years ago!

I guess it is, in fact, forgettable!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Auschwitz

The day we moved to Europe, we planned a mental list of things that we needed to do someday. Near the top of that list, once the kids were old enough to appreciate what they were seeing, was to visit some of the important WWII sites. And Auschwitz was near the top of that list. Among the many things that young people should always be taught (and old people need continual reminding of) are the evils committed by various ideologies in the twentieth century.

Auschwitz is a powerful memorial. The camp stands preserved or reconstructed as it did in the days of the Nazis. The various bunk houses have been filled with exhibits displaying all aspects of the Holocaust and extermination program the Germans undertook there. The walls are “papered” with the photos of the prisoners taken in the first few years of the camps operation. (In the last couple of years they resorted to tattooing prisoners.) A whole bunker is devoted to the possessions of the prisoners; rooms piled high with shoes, glasses, combs, brushes. And one whole room is full of tons of human hair, hair that had not been sent off to the German textile industry at the time of the camp’s capture.

Understandably, the site has an air of a mausoleum. Solemn, respectful reflection is the rule of the day. And, it is easy to mourn the loss. To judge the evil and the evil men that committed the terrible acts. To praise the heroic efforts that ended the Holocaust and stopped the advance of those racists.

What may not come readily to mind is that the camp serves most importantly as a warning. And this is why the events of 1939-1945 need to be taught and retaught to every new generation. We are all ultimately capable of such evil. Of course not many people would wake up tomorrow and undertake the next genocide. But the gradual potential is there. And I see the seeds of it nearly every day across Europe or the United States. Some days it is more prevalent than others.

At the moment, we live in a particularly precarious time.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Green

in the dilapidated, deserted stadium
along the avenues of ancient civilization
that dominated the land in a structure of beauty
is this a graveyard, corpse of culture
a ghost town?

or the thriving chaos of life
with ecosystems and cultures of another sort
flowers, grasses and insects and more
tangled with the esthetic of function and confrontation
issuing the challenge to be tamed and formed

but still
beauty
in its
pristine
green

Sunday, August 16, 2015

False Teaching is Enemy Number One (2 Peter 2:1-10)

It is hard to talk about scripture and special revelation without also mentioning the concept of false teaching. Peter tells his readers that there have always been people claiming to speak for God who were lying. Peter’s readers (including us) can rest assured that that is still the case today.

In a way, we have it a bit easier than Peter’s contemporaries did. We have a closed cannon. While that does not mean that God no longer speaks to His people today, we can rest assured that He does so through His Word, or, in the case that we may feel like we are hearing something from God for our lives we have Scripture to hold that thought up to.

The danger of false teachers is easy to recognize because it always comes in the same form. This is not a case of someone thinking God may be telling them something to obey, and struggling to be sure to do the right thing. False teachers come with new words from God for the body. If you ever hear someone telling you God told them something that the whole body needs to hear or follow, or even if they have a message for you personally, rest assured that you can test that message with Scripture and prayer. Even consider getting a second (or third) opinion. This is the example that is praised in Scripture itself. God doesn’t call on us to obey teachers; we have a responsibility to hear and obey His voice.

At the core of false teaching it is always the same. It is merely a disguised effort to justify disobedience. In all the examples listed by Peter, we see teaching trying to justify sexual sin, but it doesn’t have to be that specific. More often than not in my own personal experience, false teaching seeks to promote inaction. Beware of teaching that encourages you to not do the things you know you need to already be doing.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Kyra

Sometimes I just can’t understand
I trust your hand but I’m still afraid
Know all too well sometimes your plan
Feels like you need to drop me

I’d suggest my way but I know
That you have the whole picture in view
So I obey and follow your flow
And hope that your lead I can see

But sometimes when we talk…
I can’t concur
And I know it’s become
Tradition
But whether it’s because
I don’t want to sign off or
My trust is too small
Too human

I drop the Amen

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Kill Bill" Volumes 1 & 2 (2003, 2004)

Twelve years after seeing part 1 in theaters—on a lark with a bunch of men aiming to see a ridiculous action flick—I finally got around to seeing “Kill Bill” Part 2. Tarantino considers this one film, but it seems they felt it had to be split due to length. Truth be told, the two films are so tonally different they work well as separate products. The first is a near satirical action cartoon. The second borders on the tedious without becoming unentertaining.

As a whole, it is an interesting work, as all of Tarantino’s films end up being. His craft is excellent, and one is absorbed in the WAY he tells his stories even if not always in the stories themselves. With “Kill Bill” he shifted from his violence obsessed gangster themed works, to his ongoing obsession with revenge tales. After all, if you want to justify displaying over-the-top violence on screen, you need to give the audience permission to relish in the violence guilt free.

Artists as precise and meticulous as Tarantino always create works that hold up to a lot of scrutiny, and “Kill Bill” has certainly generated a lot of discussion. Some claim it is a feminist story, but more convincing arguments have been made that it is just the opposite. There is also some talk of the way it explores Buddhist themes such as the five poisons (with each person on the Bride’s list representing one of the evils) or even redemption. But those seem to be a stretch.

One of the more compelling observations is the pattern where Uma Thurman’s character experiences deaths followed by resurrections, each time assuming a different aspect of her character. Black Mamba dies when she is initially shot and she becomes the Bride. Then the Bride is buried by Budd and emerges as Beatrice Kiddo. Kiddo “dies” when her daughter play-shoots her and she becomes Mommy. There are even those who claim that, chronologically, the Bride doesn’t kill anyone following Vernita Green (the first fight shown). These people claim that Bill’s death is a pantomime and a way of Bill allowing her to leave him while saving face.

In the end, it is nothing more than a super violent revenge story. In perfect postmodern fashion, it is all up to the viewer to decide what it all means or even what exactly happens. And that, in some way, lessens the fun of it all.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Star Trek TOS (Season 3a)


Season 2dSeason 3b

 As I work my way through the original series, it is clear that the peak of quality has been reached (late in the first season) and past. The early episodes of season 3 are the worst run of shows thus far. Not necessarily from an entertainment perspective, although I doubt the creators were going for humor at this point. If this series had come later in pop-culture chronology, they would have had McCoy “remote controlling” Spock’s body to jump over a space shark…

Episode 1 “Spock’s Brain” 

This is widely considered for the worst Star Trek has to offer. I would grant that slot to “The Omega Glory” at this point. At least this episode has comedy. The “philosophy” addressed here—sex relations, institutional control, ontology—is all too silly to really amount to anything.

Episode 2 “The Enterprise Incident” 

Shatner gets to wear the Vulcan (or in this case, Romulan) make-up. Nemoy gets to woo the girl (or in this case woman). It feels like an exercise in keeping the actors happy. As for the plot, both elements seem contrived and unconvincing. It is, again, very fun.

Episode 3 “The Paradise Syndrome” 

The thinnest of plot devices allows Kirk to (a) become a Native American and (b) fall in love and marry. But, since this is episodic TV, and since Kirk’s most defining trait is his womanizing, we know this relationship won’t last. More interestingly, this episode explores that pesky problem Secular Humanism (and Star Trek) struggles with: obvious design. The Trek universe has higher beings who initiated, designed, and in some cases care for intelligent beings. They just as a rule have a problem assigning that role to an ultimate creator. Since design and intelligence are apparent in the universe, they assign that to some alien power. Just don’t ask them who designed the designers. They have a real problem with the original mover.

Episode 4 “And the Children Shall Lead” 

Never give sixties TV a child driven plot-line. For that matter, don’t give any TV or movie that curse. It is almost impossible to pull off well. They fail here. And that is too bad because what they wanted here was an interesting story about the truth behind cultic behavior, and the personification of evil.

Episode 5 “Is There in Truth No Beauty” 

This is a pretty good story for this run. We get a being that personifies Ugly, but is also an insight into truths that escape us. This sets up some questions about the nature of reality, and our understanding of beauty. Where it really gets good is in its exploration of interpersonal relationships and jealousy.

Episode 6 “Spectre of the Gun”

One must assume that this is another case of Trek needing to use existing sets. So they inexplicably are forced to reenact the Shoo of the tout at the OK Corral, only from the losing side. It is laughable that people in the distant future would have such a thorough knowledge of the incident, or that that would be the way a (yet another) godlike race would “judge” humanity. In the end, there is an interesting exploration of the way we can be damaged or even killed by the things we believe, even be they lies, but the trappings of this episode make them hard to consider.

Episode 7 “Day of the Dove” 

In an idea that Trek had already done, we get another being that feeds of our emotions, namely our baser drives such as aggression and hatred. The whole crew is paired up with Klingons and pushed into constant fighting. A science fiction take on “the devil made me do it.” Once they see the truth (being so advanced in their sophistication and goodness) they are able to defeat the entity by refusing to give into those emotions. If only it were so easy to be perfect!

Episode 8 “For the World is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky” 

The unquestionable highlight of this third of the third season. It explores (again) the ideas about creators or designers, and the institutions we set up once we lose communication (relationship) with said creators. It also allows McCoy to face his mortality and he (yes, he too) marries. It is a warning against placing your faith in deceptive systems, but also tries to balance knowledge with obedience to realities that are set up for our good.
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