Saturday, October 31, 2015

"It Follows" (2015)

One of the most talked about and acclaimed horror films of the year is indeed a creative and novel concept. “It Follows” is the story of a curse. The idea is that once a person is cursed, they will be pursued by an entity that only they can see, that takes on various guises, and relentlessly comes after them at a casual, walking pace. The curse is transmitted through sex, and once a cursed person has sex it is passed on to the new person. However, once that person is caught and killed, “it” will come after the first person once again.

It is an interesting conceit. For those who have always considered Pepe Le Pew a bit scary this film will serve as confirmation. The idea of a relentless, patient death approaching is scary because it is something we all face. If we could see it and run from it that would truly be an unpleasant existence.

But it is also interesting due to the “sexual sin” connotation. According to the filmmaker this was an afterthought. His initial desire was to simply convey the creepiness and dream-like quality of the pursuing curse. The sex idea was an addition. But that adds an element to the conversation. Sex in this story is dangerous, but in a way that initially fits into the Biblical worldview. The protagonist in this film engages in casual sex with a guy she barely knows, and it is he that infects her with the curse. In a more “traditional” sexual pattern—one where people abstain from sex until they find a life-long partner—there would be no danger at all in sex.

But, the metaphor of this film falls apart. It isn’t a morality tale at all in the end. The curse is limited to a single line of sexual partners. This is not a sex-is-sin story. Even worse, this story promotes a twisted cure where sex becomes a weapon. Much like the misguided idea in Africa where some men think Aids is cured by having sex with a virgin. That is hardly a good concept to promote, and this film isn’t really doing that either.

Perhaps the most convincing argument that this film is more about aesthetic and mood than message lies in the inconsistencies and illogical choices made only to scare. The “monster” can take on any form. That in and of itself doesn’t really make sense and it is only done for effect. So, in some cases “it” will be an innocuous person so that we barely notice. Other times it will be a gruesome vision presented to scare. The only logic here is the one where the director wants to create a reaction.

Sometimes the creature will be a naked person, once again intended to create a revulsion or discomfort in the audience. Nudity is never used to titillate. In fact, the sex scenes—which are voyeuristic and more graphic than is needed—do not ever show skin. That is reserved for the scares.

The worst offender where nonsensical imagery is used to shock is one towards the end of the film. Our protagonist sees “it” standing on the roof of a house she is fleeing, appearing as a naked old man. This makes no sense whatsoever. If the curse is always walking toward the victim there is no way whatsoever that it would end up on top of a building unless the victim tried to escape by climbing up there themselves.

So, what we have here is novelty and very skilled, beautiful cinematography, but with a story that is captive to a dream-logic and a lack of any meaning that let the viewer down.

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Trollhunter" (2010)

In the mostly annoying trend of found footage, Norway succeeded in creating a fun little example in “Trollhunter.” It is the story of a film crew looking into strange bear attacks across Norway. What they discover is that it is actually an elaborate cover story, maintained by the government to hide the fact that they have trolls. And, there is one man charged with keeping the trolls check. The ranger, if you will.

It’s all just a silly diversion of a film. The only reason I even mention it is the head-scratching way this story deals with Christianity. It is actually illuminating in a way.

Early on in the film, the ranger asks the crew if any of them are believers. It seems the trolls can smell Christians and are keen on killing them. The crew all insist that they are not Christians. However, later in the film the cameraman begins to panic. It turns out he is a Christian and he is convinced he will be killed as a result.

It is a strange, but typically confused representation of Christianity. Even though the question is “do you believe” the actual meaning of “Christian” in this film is a cultural one. The cameraman is clearly not a believer, but he is designated as such. Likely he comes from a “Christian” family and has undergone some symbolic initiation—confirmation or something similar.

Later in the film a new camera woman is called in. She is a self-confessed Muslim. It is unclear if trolls are indiscriminately against religious folks or just Christians. What is annoying is the inconsistency and misunderstanding caused by such labels, though. It is typical in today’s western culture. There is no distinction between cultural religion and true, convicting, faith.

In any case post-Christian Europe no longer sees faith as a weapon against danger. The only person to die is the weak, nominal, Christian.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Suck" (2009)

This vampire story is a cheaply but stylistically, more metaphor than story, exploration of the obsession with fame. It is a pretty appropriate subject for a generation that values the fifteen minutes more than any that has come before. Kids today could care less about fortune, just give them recognition. Even notoriety is something to be coveted.

In “Suck” we are introduced to a rock band that is barely scraping by. More than anything else, they want to be signed and have huge success. One night, the bass player goes to a party with some people who came to her show, and it turns out they are vampires. After she becomes one, the band start to experience more and more success. Pretty soon, the whole band have become vampires and they are superstars.

Ironically, fame (and vampirism) is not the great thing they imagined it would be, so when they are given a way out they take it. At least “normal” life is a life…

This movie is not overly horrific or scary, but it is still a vampire movie. The make-up and effects are impressive for the budget. Also, the participation from actual rock personalities ensures a higher than would be expected level of quality to the music. The film is a musical in many ways. The acting of those rock stars on the other hand… well, they are musicians and not actors.

As with so many secular takes on the subject, this film only manages to declare the vanity of fame and fortune. It fails when it comes to offering a better ideal in life. The story ends with our characters regretting a return to normal life and missing the fame that they hated. What you really have is not a warning against the vanity of empty pursuits so much as a discontent generation.

Basically, a life without purpose sucks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Oculus" (2014)

I blame “Arlington Road” back in 1999. There were surely more and earlier examples of this problem, (Halloween 3 springs to mind) but Arlington Road is the film experience that sticks with me to this day. Spoiler for anyone still wanting to see that crazy film who haven’t but… the bad guys win.

Thrillers are not supposed to turn out that way. It is a betrayal of the trust the audience has put in the story tellers. To be sure, the horror genre does have a high risk of evil winning, but the examples are still the exception. In spite of a lot of death and tragedy, we watch the movies—and invest in certain characters—because we know that most of the time some will survive and the monster will be defeated.

Lately though—and this may say a lot about the cultural landscape—horror has become hopeless and nihilistic.

“Oculus” got a lot of positive buzz last year. And, to be fair it does some amazing things with cinematic techniques that have us questioning the reality of the film throughout. Since it is a story involving mental illness, this is a clever approach. What makes things even more interesting is the way the flashbacks—a standard cinematic device that viewers are familiar with—slowly merge with current events until there is no division between the two time periods. That the director pulls this off without losing the audience shows great talent.

But, the ending (that we see coming pretty early on, so it doesn’t count as a clever twist) is a betrayal of the audience. And, since it is cheesy horror I won’t hold as much of a grudge as I do against “Arlington Road” but this is another “Halloween 3.” Better made, but still, “Halloween 3.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Doctor Who 9.6 "The Woman Who Lived"

This latest episode pulled the previous half up a bit, bringing the overarching story up to “fine.” It was still all just another “Moffat” set-up; which means regardless of how you feel about the character Ashildr/Lady Me will be back so you had better well care! Whatever. I am prepared to be interested if they make her interesting, but that has yet to happen.

The reason so many may argue that this episode and this character is interesting all amounts to an old (maybe tired) trope of fantasy fiction: immortality is a curse and death is a gift. The problem with this attitude is that it assumes such immortality in our current reality, and in a fallen world full of sin and suffering death can indeed be seen as a gift. Genesis 3 even puts that idea forward when God denies mankind access to the tree of life:

“Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever…’”

In casting humanity out of paradise and ensuring that they will NOT experience immortality in their sin, God is showing tremendous mercy. Death is bad, but it makes salvation possible. Immortality is once again available once God provides a scapegoat, a substitute to take away the sin and punishment humanity has brought upon itself.

So, these sorts of stories: “Oh how terrible immortality is! I wish I could just die!” Are unfulfilling to me because they highlight the suffering of sin but are blind to the hope of real existence. Could you not conceive of a life without death if you were also told that those whom you love will also persist, and there are no limits to what one could learn or experience, and things would truly be the way they were meant to be? That there would be a fulfilment to the longing we all perceive but try to ignore when we think it is just a dream?


Monday, October 26, 2015

"The Gospel According to..." (John 1:19-35)

This account doesn’t start with the baby in the manger. It starts with a testimony. Ultimately that is what the Gospel is, not just the true story of how God has redeemed lost creation, but the testimony about what God has done. In all four biblical accounts, we get the testimony of John. And Jesus has commanded all His followers to keep the story going. “The Gospel According to You” What does your chapter look like? Who has heard it? Who needs to?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 6a)


Season 5bSeason 6b

Episode 1: “Equinox (Part 2)”

We briefly ask ourselves if Janeway is capable of sacrificing her ethics just as her counterpart has—not as he did to save the crew, but rather to punish his betrayal. However, this is Star Trek and our characters don’t have those kind of flaws for long. For that matter, it is Star Fleet so the other captain comes to his senses as well.

Episode 2: “Survival Instinct”

Seven is targeted by other drones whom she at one point kept from escaping the collective. They want her to help them out now that she is no longer Borg and, as if there was any suspense… she does.

Episode 3: “The Barge of the Dead”

An interesting look at Klingon religious beliefs, but also at the whole idea of faith in the materialistic Trek universe. Most people will likely point out that this whole plot just occurs in Torres’ mind. However, it isn’t that simple. At one point she even has a conversation with Chakotay about the plausibility of her experiences. “I accept there are things in the universe that can't be scanned with a tricorder.” That is a great, honest response from a man of science who is also a spiritual man. He then has her address her situation rationally all the while not denying its potential reality. In the end, Torres treats her experiences on the Barge as real, and learns important lessons for her life.

Episode 4: “Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy”

The Doctor begins to experiment with—and lose control to—the concept of day dreaming. Coincidentally a new alien race gains access to Voyager through his interface. Hilarity ensues.

Episode 5: “Alice”

Paris becomes possessed by a ship that can interface directly with the pilot’s brain. This is a cautionary tale about allowing anything any level of control over our minds.

Episode 6: “Riddles”

Tuvok is injured and reduced to functioning at a child’s level. Neelix helps him to cope and to function with his emotions, but when the status quo is inevitably resumed it doesn’t seem to have any impact.

Episode 7: “Dragons Teeth”

The crew form an alliance with a species that has access to special special travel, and that might shorten their trip. However, when the ethics of this species are revealed to be evil, Voyager will not sacrifice their standards for convenience.

Episode 8: “One Small Step”

In another one of those unlikely coincidences, Voyager becomes trapped in a pocket where an early Earth-Mars mission was also trapped. (All the way on the other side of the Galaxy.) There are also several other ships trapped in this space. Trek sometimes feels like a VERY crowded space. There is even mention in this episode about how space is largely empty (by definition) and yet there are so many planets and Warp-capable aliens in the Trek Universe it could never conceivably be our own.

Episode 9: “The Voyager Conspiracy”

Seven of Nine overloads her mind with information and is forced to create stories—conspiracies—to try to connect all the data. This is an interesting look at the nature and mindset of people obsessed with conspiracies. It also shows the only cure: trust. If you lose the ability to see or trust your own understanding of reality, you have to choose to trust someone else who can. And in a universe that overwhelms with its unknowability, one must choose whether to trust the creator or not.

Episode 10: “Pathfinder”

In a departure for the series, we get a story back in the Alpha Quadrant. Barclay is trying to establish communication with Voyager, but everybody seems to think he is relapsing into his Holodeck Addiction. He is, but he also happens to be right. In the end it is hard to decide what this show is trying to say. Addictions are bad and need to be dealt with, but sometimes people need to be trusted more?

Episode 11: “Fair Haven”

This is one of those annoying stories where a character falls in love with a holo-program. In today’s environment it is doubtful it would be looked upon so favorably as it is here. The reality is too close to home. The one interesting commentary this episode makes is when Janeway realizes the danger when she sees it is too easy to simply adjust the program every time she is unhappy.

Episode 12: “Blink of an Eye”

An interesting concept for a story. Voyager gets stuck in orbit around a planet where time flow runs faster than in the rest of the galaxy. Every second of normal time is a day on the planet. We get to see entire civilizations advance in the span of days, and the Doctor gets sent on a mission for a quarter of an hour and ends up experiencing three years of life on the planet.

Episode 13: “Virtuoso”

At this point it is hard to remember that the Doctor is merely a computer program. Because he isn’t. He is a fully fleshed out character and it stretches suspension of disbelief to the breaking point, the amount of emotions, insecurities, and free will that he exhibits in the course of the show. It requires a lack of intelligent thought to truly see his character as a case for artificial personality; or, as an argument that we are merely sophisticated machines. That said, he is one of the most entertaining characters on the show. Just not an algorithm.

Friday, October 23, 2015

"[REC] 4: Apocalypsis" (2014)

For those wondering if the “[Rec]” franchise would ties up all the loose ends and explain the demonic background of its biological threat as it draws to is “Apocalypsis,” the answer is, no. To be sure we get back to the story revolving around TV hostess Angela Vidal, and we get to see whatever came of that last shot of the second film. But, most of the demonic/religious overtones are glossed over. Not forgotten, just not expanded at all.

This fourth installment is a straight continuation of part two (and together with the first film we really have a three pat act here), but the atmosphere is completely different. And not just because they are on a boat and not trapped in the building anymore. The feel is different, less tense, and there doesn’t seem to be as much danger. There aren’t as many zombie attacks, and everyone seems to be able to arm themselves pretty well.

In the end there is an attempt at some surprising twist, but it isn’t all that surprising. And, the most disappointing thing is the way this story just devolves into a typical run-from-the-monsters plot, especially the way it started out looking to new, religious, nature-of-good-and-evil ideas for its backstory.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Doctor Who 9.5 "The Girl Who Died"

I fear my Doctor Who enjoyment is in danger of waning. I try to keep my eye on the screen but I simply can’t help but see the man standing behind the curtain out of the corner of my mind. This latest episode is the worst case of straw-man-ism so far this season.

The story is just so empty. We have a case of a feared, invincible, alien army who it turns out are really just reaping the benefits of a reputation. (Dangerously close to a metaphor of the show itself, come to think of it.) But in this episode, as in so many latterly, the story is insignificant. Instead we are supposed to focus on:

The celebrity casting.

The long awaited reveal of an answer.

And, the set-up of yet another question.

Taken in order, here is what we actually get:

Perhaps people who watch “Game of Thrones” already have a connection to our guest star, I can’t know. However, the writers are sure banking on that fact. Because they give us no reason to fall in love with her character here and it comes as no surprise, and invokes no real feeling when she dies. (I mean… the title of the episode left us with no doubts, as well as the title of the next episode spoiling the “surprise” of this story.)

The answer we have been looking for is a big letdown. We have been told for some time that the writers would explain why the Doctor now looks like someone else we have seen in previous episodes. Turns out, he was subconsciously telling himself to save someone, anyone, someday. What? And why this girl, at this time? We certainly are not led to believe that he cares about her more than any other character he has met since his regeneration. And, to make matters worse he almost instantly regrets bringing her back to life. (The way that is accomplished, by the way, is one of the more stupid plot devices in all of Who.)

Finally, we get yet another Moffat-side-character in the form of this immortal girl. Much like Captain Jack and River Song, we will likely see a lot more of this Viking girl, but at this point they haven’t given me much reason to care. And, to be honest, they’ve burned us a lot in the past with these character. Whole story arcs have put up with sub-par plots all because we are supposed to be distracted by these “mysterious” characters.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to the Future Day Musings

This film is all timey-wimey. It opens on Saturday, October 26, 1985—only the movie was released in 1989. Then they travel to a version of October 21, 2015, but trigger events there that change the events of the first film (back in 1955) that change the reality of 1985. So, they have to go back to 1955 and revisit the first film to fix things—yet again. And the whole thing ends with a message from the further past—1885—but that is another story…

Where was I in October of 1985? Well, for one thing I had just moved from Costa Rica to Chile, so I hadn’t seen the first “Back to the Future” yet. Movies took a year or more to get to South America in those days. But none of that matters because this film came out in 1989.

Now that was a year for movies! “The Burbs,” “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” “Three Fugitives,” “Her Alibi,” “The Abyss,” “Glory,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Last Crusade,” “Batman,” “Dead Poet’s Society.” I think the only reason we are making a big buzz about this movie is because we have survived to the future it was trying to predict.

What an 80s vision of the future! At least their version of today doesn’t have the flat-bill craze. But all the hats in their world are pretty stupid looking. Who would have thought that the Cubs joke would still work today—not like they are going to win though. They got video chat right, big screens right, the return of 3-D sort of right, but where did the HD quality go? And someone really thought fax technology was the way of the future. Had they not gotten the tiniest hint of the internet?

But remember, all of these predictions are a moot point. Even as we see the events changed in the hover board incident, the whole future is rendered void with the changes Biff sets off, compounded by our heroes’ actions. Not to mention the events and changes of the third part.

But we don’t really return to this movie for the 2015 stuff. The amazing and fun thing here is the retelling of the 1955 stuff, all while the events of the first movie are taking place. It is a genius sequel idea. We get to enjoy the plot of the first film—not retold, but as it happened—all the while enjoying a new story about another challenge happening at the same time but having to avoid interfering with the old events. Whew!

So enjoy this movie that came out 26 years ago about a boy from 30 years ago coming to our day only to travel back 60 years and the 100 more, all in an effort to fix problems that he caused himself by traveling in time.

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Save the Last One" Random Thoughts

I am way behind on “The Walking Dead.” Like a lot of zombie stories, I think it has tremendous potential to make social, philosophical and even theological commentary, and unlike a lot of zombie fare I think it is well made. However, who has the stomach to handle such intense, depressing material. And that isn’t even taking the gore into account!

But since Netflix affords me the opportunity to check out what I have been missing, I am creeping my way through the second season. (I know, I have heard that I ought to skip ahead.) I have been a bit surprised by the way the show has not steered clear of theological musings, such as what I found in episode 3.

Hidden in amongst the shocking decisions being made at the climax of this episode, there is a quiet moment between Glenn and Maggie. Glenn has snuck out onto the porch to pray… for the first time in his life. Maggie interrupts him, and asks him if that is what he is doing.

He admits that he is trying it for the first time and asks her if she is a believer. She says that she used to be, before everything went to hell in the apocalyptic world they now live in.

That struck me as a pretty insightful commentary on faith in western culture. When things are going well and we are enjoying the richest, safest existence the world has ever known it is easy to embrace a religious philosophy of life. Especially the age-old-regional-god idea that your god will bless you and protect you if you please him. It is especially helpful that a lot of “Christian” teaching sounds like that these days.

But what would happen if the Christianity we see in the Bible started to invade our affluent, western culture? That faith that promises suffering for its adherents, the one that says the rest of the world will misunderstand and hate it? How many people would continue to follow God in a world that hates Him? How many people would be able to maintain their faith and continue to love?

Because that is a better picture of the situation we are faced with. Ephesians 2 even uses terminology fans of “The Walking Dead” could identify with. Paul tells believers that they used to be dead in the sin in which they walked. Without Christ we were the walking dead. Only the dead we live amongst are not the enemy.

Glenn is moved to pray for his friends and the difficulty they are facing. Unfortunately, I know that this show has a darker future ahead of it. There is no hope for the walkers, or for the living as everyone in this show is already carrying the “disease.” And in this case, there doesn’t seem to be a cure.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thersion Averapy

Beat your fear of spiders(1) with a spear of fighters(2)
Ignore your fear of heights(3) to hear off eights(4)
Are you afraid of crossing the street?(5)
I once saw a steer that was crossing its feet.(6)
And those who suffer from a fear of clowns(7)
Can always resort to a clear of frowns(8)

(1. Arachnophobia
2. Anacropolearma
3. Acrophobia
4. Achtophaudia
5. Agyrophobia
6. Acowcrosstibia
7. Coulrophobia
8. Clorofraunia)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Logbook

(Poetry Scales 40)

Timestamp… new, guarded

A choice lies before me…

After countless tours on this vessel
I have been taught its ideals:
“Existence is purpose
Death is the end
Memory is fading
Legacy is the aim”

Today I was shown the Charter
The journey we are on is a lie
We are trapped
In a mutinous, alternate reality
Our captain is a mustache twirling imposter

There is a way back
Beyond our means but available
It can’t be purchased, but costs everything
Followed, the peril is mortal but
Purpose exists and Death is defeated

A choice lies before me…

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Doctor Who 9.4 "Before the Flood"


“This didn't happen by the way.”

That is the key statement of the episode there.

One of the strengths of “Doctor Who” is that—despite the premise of a man who can go anywhere in space OR time—it is not a show ABOUT time travel. Any story that hinges on the intricacies of time travel is almost surely going to fall apart. Mostly because time travel doesn’t work and is a plot killer.

In this episode the show breaks with its standard form and opts to escapes its cliff-hanger predicament with a time travel cliché. It even breaks the fourth wall and has the Doctor tell us this in the cold-open. That is where the above parenthetical remark is uttered, in the Doctor’s lecture on what a “bootstrap paradox” is.

It’s a shame, really. Because the set-up last week was really good. And, the various elements here are engaging. The creature design is pretty good and there is a call-back to an interesting alien we have encountered before. But none of it really goes anywhere and in the end that shocking imagery in last week’s cliff hanger is simply brushed aside.

In the end, the only important question in this episode is not: “Who really composed Beethoven’s Fifth?” Nor is it: “Where did the Doctor get the list of names?”

Rather it is:

“The Minister of War? No. Never mind. I expect I’ll find out soon enough.”


Friday, October 9, 2015

"Cache" (2005)

(Spoilers follow.)

Haneke’s 2005 film was named by some as the best film of the decade. He is known for subtle disturbing studies of society such as “The White Ribbon” and “Funny Games.” So, when I heard about his story of a family terrorized by someone sending them videos of their own house being watched, I was intrigued.

Well, I was certainly a victim of overblown expectations! This is by no means a bad film, but it is not as impactful as one would expect from a film beating out all others from its decade. The challenge is not to make it through the suspense and tension, but to stay awake.

It is an important story. A man is being reminded of a terrible sin that he didn’t so much hide, as forget. As a child he made sure that his family didn’t adopt an immigrant child that they felt responsible for. He didn’t want to share his parents, their love, and their security with anyone else. It was a deliberate act, but coming from a preschooler it is hard to assign too much guilt.

It is also probably hard for viewers to blame him much because we are talking about an immigrant. The European middle class has a hard time seeing immigrants as equals, as today’s refugee crisis constantly reminds us. In many ways this film is much more relevant today than it was ten years ago. Then it was dealing with the French bourgeois guilt regarding Algerians, now it could speak to all of the west as regarding millions of people fleeing war and persecution.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Star Trek TOS (Season 3c)


Season 3b—Top Episodes

Trek winds down without ever reaching the strengths of the second half of season one, but for the most part without being a bad as reputation has it… well almost.

Episode 17: “That Which Survives”

Summary: The ship encounters a planet with a unique and deadly security system. The computer fashions women specifically designed to kill each intruder with a simple touch.

Struggle: The story is a bit silly, but the final line is particularly silly.

Thoughts:

The episode is focused on minor aspects of the premise, such as the beauty of the woman and the way the men react to the danger, rather than exploring the xenophobia of the people who created the security system.

Episode 18: “Lights of Zetar”

Summary: Strange lights torment the crew and even kill everyone on the station Memory Alpha. They are intelligences seeking bodies to inhabit, and McCoy’s love interest is compatible.

Struggle: The story is resolved so easily, it almost fails to constitute a plot.

Thoughts:

The show seems interested in giving someone other than Kirk a love interest, but McCoy is so taken it is hard to believe that he will have forgotten her by the next episode. Such is the weakness of these episodic shows.

Episode 19: “Requiem for Methuselah”

Summary: Yet another “all powerful” being is encountered. This time it is an immortal human who has lived out several lifetimes as famous people from history. He has created a female cyborg, and hopes to make her human by having her fall in love with Kirk.

Struggle: At this point it strains believability to think of all the godlike people in this secular humanist fantasy world.

Thoughts:

It is a curious thought that love could make a robot truly human. However, the show reaches its run-time just as the change is achieved. The crisis that the robot faces—reconciling romantic love with love for a father figure—feels like it is forced. And, indeed it is.

Episode 20: “The Way to Eden”

Summary: A group of hippies tries to take the show hostage into the 1960s.

Struggle: That this show is so of its time.

Thoughts:

This episode feels like so many other entries into 1960s television. It could have just as well been “Gilligan’s Island” or “The Beverly Hillbillies.” It touches on imagery of Genesis and paradise, but doesn’t really explore them in any meaningful way.

Episode 21: “The Cloud Minders”

Summary: The ship must repair societal relations on a mining planet in order to get an ore it needs to save another planet.

Struggle: The issues raised in this episode are passed over without much struggle. This show is supposed to comment on societal ills, not gloss over them.

Thoughts:

In the neat little world of this story, the societal divides and oppression of the well-off over the impoverished is blamed on a gas. If only our problems were so clear-cut. Then again, as complex as they are, they are similar. If only it were as easy as locking the most powerful world leaders into a situation where they could not get enough clean water, food, and education to rise above the poverty-line.

Episode 22: “The Savage Curtain”

Summary: The latest in a long line of omnipotent beings subjects Kirk and Spock to an ill-advised experiment to test whether good or evil is stronger. The problem is that they force a methodology that benefits the side of evil, and then complain that good and evil are too similar.

Struggle: The rock alien is pretty good for its day, but the selection of “historical figures” feels dated.

Thoughts:

Good and evil can hardly be measured when they are forced to engage in a violent contest. Then again, many conflicts in our history are felt to be good forced to meet evil on its own terms.

Episode 23: “All Our Yesterdays”

Summary: Inhabitants of a dying planet have escaped destruction by fleeing into their past. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are accidentally sent there as well.

Struggle: There is no reason to believe that Spock would act so out of character.

Thoughts:

Why didn’t anybody use the time-travel option to change/save their current time/situation?

Episode 24: “Turnabout Intruder”

Summary: A woman from Kirk’s past switches bodies with him. The whole of the episode is a suspense to see if Kirk will regain his body.

Struggle: The silliness of the whole situation, and the acting towards the end.

Thoughts:

A fairly simplistic take on things, but it is still a fun study on the know-ability of truth.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Mr. Mercedes" by Stephen King

When I heard that King had written a detective novel I got excited. I have enjoyed some of his books and I love a good mystery. However, it wasn’t really a mystery. It was more of a race against time. We see the action from two perspectives, the detective and the villain, and we merely experience the suspense wondering who will reach their goal first.

King is still doing horror in “Mr. Mercedes.” In addition to the tension of watching a man trying to kill on a massive scale, we get the typical King discomfort. Looking in on the life of the twisted, psychopathic killer in this book is more disturbing than it needed to be. Especially as King lets us in the mind of this monster. To quote a section at length:

“He’s not worried about God, or about spending eternity being slow-roasted for his crimes. There’s no heaven and no hell. Anyone with half a brain knows those things don’t exist. How cruel would a supreme being have to be to make a world as [f-d up] as this one?
…every religion lies. Every moral perception is a delusion. Even the stars are a mirage. The truth is darkness, and the only thing that matters is making a statement before one enters it. Cutting the skin of the world and leaving a scar. That’s all history is, after all: scar tissue.”

Never mind that these are the ravings of someone who King clearly shows as deranged. Never mind that the story goes on to see moral perception triumph, and that it does so in a way that lends credence to meaning and a “guiding hand” at work. The mind of the evil man is the only one we hear regarding these metaphysical concepts. His is the one that people seem to want to hear these days. People still root for the good guy these days (hopefully) but they are fascinated with the evil.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Doctor Who 9:3 "Under the Lake"

The temptation is to leave any comment about this episode off until next week. That may be the case all season long with these two part stories. There is usually just not enough to go on until the whole story has been told. This week in particular is problematic, as the whole episode is a long set-up for the final shot of the show, the cliff-hanger.

That said, it is a very entertaining episode. What it lacks in concepts and message, it makes up for in action and suspense. So, let’s just concern ourselves with the questions raised, that may or may not be answered next week:

Ghosts? The problem isn’t so much that this work of fiction introduces the concept, but it handles it strangely. First, the Doctor is adamant that they can’t exist. But last season’s finale showed conclusively that the soul of a person lives on after the body. The Doctor saw what we saw then, so why is he so certain that a ghost can’t be? However, before we even have time to really consider this contradiction, the Doctor does a 180 and trades in his incredulity for excitement. He is chomping at the bit to find out about the after-life. (This after he saw an aspect of it last season, see above.)

The mechanics of this episode are presented so matter-of-factly that it seems reasonable. But if you think about them it is silly and so unlikely to succeed, one wonders why anyone would develop such a communication. Basically, the stranded ship imprints its SOS in the mind of people and then seeks to kill them, using their soul memory to add to the message being sent out. (To where, and how?) The system relies on a large population stumbling upon the ship and dying.

All that said, here’s hoping we get a better story next week leading up to the revelation we saw at the end of this episode.


Monday, October 5, 2015

The Gospel and the Incarnation (John 1:12, 14-18)

With verse 14, we arrive at the climax of the prologue, maybe.

It could be verse 12, depending on how you look at things. Both should be considered. In verse 12, we have the central idea of a giant chiastic structure. I love chiasms, even though I think there is a huge danger of seeing them where they don’t exist, or in reading too much into them.

Here, we have a pretty clear case. (A) has verses 1, 2 and 18 talking about the Son’s relationship with the Father. Trinitarian imagery. (B) sees verses 3 and 17 deal with creation and revelation, two of the main works of God. With (C) John talks about the Word bringing light, illumination, and life to men in verse 4, while 16 parallels that discussing how the Word has brought us grace.

In (D) we get the two parenthetical sections (6-8 and 15) about John the Baptist’s witness.

Verses 9, 10, and 14 (E) deal with the Word coming into the world. (F) sees verses 11 and 13 talking about relationships and nations, our fleshly connections.

Then you get the simple Gospel of verse 12. (G) talks about receiving, believing in Christ. The central idea (H) shows what God has given all who trust in Him, the right to be His children. So, verse 12 is a huge verse. It is the central idea, in both structure and meaning, of this Gospel prologue.

However, to me verse 14 still has more weight. It takes this whole prologue from being a theoretical, philosophical, wide open idea, to something concrete and narrow.

What makes the Gospel so specific is the fact of the incarnation. God didn’t just deal in theory. He didn’t symbolically come to us and “show us the way.” He became flesh. He entered into creation, and into this world that is in rebellion against Him. Jesus went from being a person of the Godhead to becoming a person like you and me, a man.

When we embrace the Gospel message, we are placing our trust in the Man who is also God, we follow a real person named Jesus Christ in obedience.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Top Fourth Doctor Stories

This is my Doctor. I like a lot of these stories. If forced to narrow it down to 10, this is the list I would write today:

10. Logopolis

The end of the longest run of any Doctor. It was time for a change, but they still managed a compelling story with a lot of metaphysical silliness. And, the Fourth Doctor goes out saving the entire universe, which is appropriately grand.

9. City of Death 

I like Romana 2 better than most companions. Here, we get Paris, Douglas Adams’ silliness, and an adventure on a grand scale which fits the scale of a hero that plays in all of space and time. The reveal at the end of episode 1 is one of the best in Doctor Who.

8. The Horror of Fang Rock 

A fun adventure with a group of people isolated and threatened. And a truly silly monster that still manages to scare.

7. The Ribos Operation 

The whole “Key to Time” plot of the season holds a dear place in my mind. Douglas Adams’ “The Pirate Planet” is particularly good as well. But I love this first adventure. It is perfectly plotted, fun and silly at times, and the writing and characters are wonderful.

6. Pyramids of Mars 

Mix Egyptian mythology, truly creepy villains, classic monster tropes, and an embodiment of evil as the Big Bad, and you have a great adventure.

5. The Deadly Assassin 

Tom Baker always thought that the Doctor could work without a companion to play off of, but this is the only story where that was attempted. It worked great too, but I’m not sure the show could do this for long. Some of the cliff-hangers in this serial almost caused the show to be shut down as they were seen as too scary for kids.

4. Genesis of the Daleks 

Doctor Who does best when it tackles philosophy, morality and ethics. In this case it deals with genocide in an intelligent and nuanced manner. And there are some great and timeless images and characters as well.

3. The Robots of Death 

This is a straight-up who-done-it in best Agatha Christie style, with some of the best art design the series would ever see.

2. Ark in Space 

The Fourth Doctor’s first real adventure (after a story that fit better with the Third Doctor’s era) is nothing short of a masterpiece. It is Aliens over a decade before that movie was made. And, this was back when bubble-wrap was so knew they thought it could work as alien skin and no one would notice.

1. The Talons of Weng Chiang 

Doctor Who does Victorian Sherlock Holmes with a china-man master villain, a ventriloquist dummy come-to-life, giant rats, and great Robert Holmes writing.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (2010)

A few years ago, in between “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End” Edgar Right made the strange little movie “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” It is based on a little series of graphic novels, but the movie is an extreme example of Wright’s incredibly creative storytelling.

Some of the elements of the story are strange, out of place, and don’t contribute anything to the overall idea. For instance, Scott’s roommate is gay. It feels shoehorned in for no reason at all. However, much of the strange, surreal world being built here is so new it is hard to process at first. It is probably an important film in the way it changes the way film communicates. Canada seems like the real place in this film, but things happen there that can only happen in a video game, and no one seems to find any of it strange. It is almost like magic realism, just with a new twist for the 21 century.

In the story itself, Scott meets a girl and begins a relationship with her. However, for that relationship to work, he must fight all of her exes to the death. The message is almost too spot-on. When two people try to come together in a meaningful romantic relationship, they are always contending with their past experiences and expectations. We are in many ways just the sum of these things. And, for romance to become love, we must change. We must grow together.

Beyond that, though, the film adds another insight. For a relationship to work there must be love. We must place the other person first. We must be able to fight for them and sacrifice ourselves for what they need. But, there must also be the “self-respect” too. We need to be a fully realized individual before we can give ourselves away. Not that we need that before the relationship can begin. Often times, we first learn who we are in a life commitment to another.

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