Wednesday, May 22, 2013
I’m sure those of you who have been reading my recent movie reviews over at Aleteia have figured out by now how the deal works over there. I spend most of the article talking about the film (as spoiler free as possible) and then provide a brief paragraph or two touching lightly on a Christian theme that may have presented itself during the movie. It’s similar to what I’ve been doing here, but the reviews are shorter and not quite as heavy on the catechetical material.
That’s fine for most movies, but every now and then I run across one I wish I could blab a little longer on. Take Star Trek Into Darkness for example. While I was able to say what I wanted to about the film’s intended moral theme (just response during warfare), the no-spoiler policy and the allowed length of the article prevented me from going off on a tangent I really, really wanted to. Well, there are no such restrictions on this site, so… it’s tangent time! Now I won’t rehash what I thought of Into Darkness here because you can read all that over at Aleteia, but I am going to spoil stuff I didn’t get to in that review. So, if you don’t want to have some of the plot twists revealed before seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, it might be best to skip the rest of this post.
Alright then, let’s get Star Trekkin’…
Okay, if you’re still here that means you either already know that Khan Noonien Singh is the villain (at least one of them) in the latest movie, or you don’t mind learning it beforehand. Star Trek Into Darkness is basically J.J. Abrams’ take on the Star Seed episode of the original series with lots of visual and verbal cues from The Wrath of Khan thrown in to try and add some emotional gravitas to an otherwise lightweight script. Obviously, thanks to the changes to the timeline which occurred in the previous film, how Kirk and his crew come to meet Khan and how that encounter resolves itself is vastly different from the first time around.
But that’s where the changes end apparently. As I noted in my review at Aleteia, “after taking great pains in the 2009 reboot of Star Trek to establish an alternate timeline (and therefore an uncertain future) for the crew of the USS Enterprise, the writers of Into Darkness appear to have decided some of the previous canon is too sacred to be messed with after all. As a result, things written with the intention of being shocking twists really aren’t, the ending is telegraphed midway through the film, and some plot points make little sense outside of the fact that they have to occur in order to set up future events which didn’t necessarily even have to happen anymore (or so Abrams’ first Star Trek movie would have suggested).”
In short, the writers of Into Darkness decided that The Wrath of Khan was sacrosanct, so even though the new film is set in an alternate timeline, everything that occurs in the new movie does so to ensure that The Wrath of Khan as we know it will come to pass. That’s sweet, but it requires a bunch of increasingly ridiculous plot points in order to make it happen. Don’t even get me started on the blood serum McCoy develops which basically makes it now possible for everyone in the 23rd century to become Wolverine. (I was going to get into a number of the plot holes this movie inflicts upon the franchise, but then I noticed they’ve already driven Peter Chattaway into a nerd frenzy over at Patheos, so I’ll just let you head over there and read all about that stuff.)
You see, while Star Trek Into Darkness is an enjoyable enough action film, once it’s over and you’ve had a few moments to think about it, you realize it’s also illogical and kind of stupid. Even so, the whole thing got me to wondering about some of the philosophical conundrums presented by Abram’s two films when taken together. You see, in the first Star Trek, the changes that come from Nero’s incursion into the past suggest that events are malleable and the future can change based on our choices. In contrast, Into Darkness appears to imply that some things must always be, that some things are predestined to happen, even if those events don’t make any sense story wise. Khan must always end up in exile even though he should have been killed twenty times over, Carol Marcus and Kirk must always hook up (kind of hard to have a son if they don’t) even after all that happened with her father should have sent her running in the opposite direction, and major characters must survive to star in the sequel/prequel/whatever even after, you know, they kind of kicked the bucket during the big finale.
So one film champions free will and the other favors predestination, yet both exist in the same universe. That can’t work, can it? Well, I suppose it could be a problem for some, but for Catholics, who kind of dine on this sort of paradox, it’s not really a problem at all. As the Catechism explains it, “To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of ‘predestination’, he includes in it each person's free response to his grace.” For God, an intelligence outside of time, everything has happened/is happening/will happen. It’s all a big NOW to him, a done deal so to speak. For us linear creatures, however, everything is still a choice. The concept works even for things like the crucifixion, an event that MUST take place in order to accomplish God’s plan of salvation. Just because the crucifixion MUST happen, that doesn’t preclude the fact that it involved free will on the part of humans to bring it about. Judas had to choose to betray Jesus, Pontius Pilate had to choose to wash his hands of the affair, we all had to choose to sin to make the event necessary in the first place.
But just for the fun of it, let’s imagine that someone managed to go back in time and convince Judas not to betray Jesus. Wouldn’t that throw a monkey wrench into God’s plans? Not at all, because assuming the crucifixion is a fixed point in time (what, you can watch both Star Trek AND Dr. Who, you know), then God, being outside of time, would have already taken into account the choices made in the alternative timeline and arranged for other means to bring the crucifixion about in it. And I’ll guarantee he wouldn’t do it as sloppy as they do in Into Darkness. Magic Wolverine blood, give me a freaking break!.
Oh well, that’s probably more noodling about Into Darkness than it really deserves. Just watch it for the usual Trek stuff and try not to worry too much about the changes Abrams and his writers have made to the Star Trek franchise. And if they bother you too much, you can always fall back on Star Wars.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
For Aleteia this past weekend, I watched the latest film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s required reading, The Great Gatsby. You know, it’s always interesting watching a movie based on a novel, if for no other reason than to see how a director meets the challenges of bringing certain passages to the screen. And it’s not a problem just for A-listers like Baz Luhrmann, B-movie directors have a hard time of it as well. What’s that you say, you didn’t know bad movies also occasionally started out as books? It’s true, and to prove it, here’s a handful of celluloid hack jobs that once started out as hardbacks.
Oh yes, believe it or not, the screenplay for Roger Corman’s quicky cash-in on Jurassic Park (so quick it actually managed to come out first) was adapted from the 1984 novel Carnosaur written by John Brosnan under the pseudonym of Harry Adam Knight. Troll around the internet and you’ll be amazed to find a few fans who appreciate Brosnan’s Carnosaur more than they do Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. However, I think it’s safe to say you’d be hard pressed to find the same for the movies.
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare
Now most people are aware that Joe Dante’s classic 1981 werewolf flick The Howling was based on a book, but what only the people who actually read Gary Brandner’s 1977 novel realize is that Dante’s final screenplay bears no resemblence whatsoever to the source material except for the idea of werewolves running around somewhere in California. It wasn’t until the 1988 direct-to-video sequel that Brandner’s original storyline finally appeared onscreen. Although gorehounds fondly remember the movie for the scene in which a man melts into a puddle of goo and reforms as a werewolf, most fans of the Bradner’s book probably feel the movie wasn’t worth the wait.
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Probably the most successful of the Scream knock-offs, the Kevin Williamson penned I Know What You Did Last Summer was actually an adaptation of the 1973 Young Adult novel of the same name written by prolific YA author Lois Duncan. Just like many an ashamed actor, it seems the Young Adult genre has a few slashers in its past.
They Slime... They ooze... They kill... and they did it in Shaun Hutson’s 1982 novel six years before Juan Piquer Simón’s cult classic hit the big screen. Slugs was just one of many killer animal books to hit the spinner racks back in the 70s/80s, a fun mini-genre that included such gems as Guy N. Smith’s killer crab series and James Herbert’s mutant rats saga, both of which also saw low budget film adaptations.
Night of the Lepus
And finally, as hard as it may be to imagine, the story which inspired everyone’s favorite 1972 flick featuring Dr. McCoy battling a horde of giant-sized hares first appeared in Russell Braddon’s 1964 novel, The Year Of The Angry Rabbit. As silly as the movie is, the book was sillier, going so far as to include an Australian prime minister hell bent on taking over the entire world using behemoth bunnies.
There’s many more such treasures, but that should be enough to have you searching the shelves of your local used book store for something to take with you to the beach this summer. I suppose some of you might opt for a classic like The Great Gatsby instead, but hey, some people are just weird that way.
Of course, who says you have to choose one way or the other? Why not have both? If you haven’t lined up your summer reading just yet, why not check out a few sites where you can find a little bit of everything for all tastes. Tucked among the tomes on The Happy Catholic Bookshelf, you’ll find everything from books on church architecture to the weird worlds of Philip K. Dick. For those with kids, The Catholic Book Blogger has a number of suggestions. And if you just want some old fashioned genre goodness, the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour offers a monthly discussion on some of the more interesting book selections out there.
Or you could just do what I do most of the time and wait for the movie to come out. That works too.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
It’s Mother’s Day, so there’s going to be lots of lists out there covering the best and worst moms the movies have to offer. For the more mainstream choices, Steven D. Greydanus’ top ten moms over at Catholic Digest is as good a place as any to start. But given the kinds of stuff we watch around these parts, we thought there might just be a few movie moms deserving of honors who’ll probably get overlooked by those other lists, ladies like…
Diane Freeling from Poltergeist
Sure, she’s got a bad habit or two left over from the late 60s, but when all is said and done, there’s a reason Mrs. Freleng is in the foreground in this image. Amidst all the madness going on in their household, Diane is the glue that holds the Freleng clan together. She knows when to be sensitive and hold a funeral for a dead bird and she knows when to get tough and demand her husband be a man. Plus, she’s quick to jump into another dimension if that’s what her children need from her.
Maureen Robinson from Lost In Space
The simple fact that she patiently managed to keep everyone from murdering Dr. Smith for all those years should be enough to qualify Mrs. Robinson for sainthood, but throw in the fact that she was also a biochemist, expert gardener, and expert tracker (How many times did those freakin’ kids run off, anyway?), and there’s no doubt that Maureen was the real deal when it came to motherhood.
Amanda Grayson from Star Trek
There are few more admired figures in science fiction than Mr. Spock, but like many a successful man, there’s a good mother behind him. Amanda was the one who was always there for Spock during all those tortuous years in which classmates bullied the boy for his mixed heritage and his father expressed little more than disappointment in his progress. And her love for her son never wavered once, even despite the fact that his training prevented him from ever telling her that he loved her back. But a mother knows.
Gorgo from Gorgo
Sure, the overprotective single mother is something of a cliché, but it’s not so without its reasons. And who could be a better example of how far a mother will go to protect her child than Gorgo? Nobody takes her baby unless they want their city flattened when she comes to take him back. And you can tell it’s an act of love rather than one of vengeance because once she finds her little boy, the destruction stops and they simply go home. And I’ll bet the kid probably got time out for wandering to far from home to begin with. Gorgo seems like the type not to shy away from discipline.
That’s our quick list. Let us know of any others that come to mind.
Until nest time, Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there. May Saint Monica intercede for you, so that you may continue to draw your children to God and forever remain close to them, even the prodigal sons and daughters who have sadly gone astray. Amen.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Monday, May 06, 2013
Just like half the population of the world (I’m not sure that’s an exaggeration), I went to see Iron Man 3 this past week. You can find out what I thought over at Aleteia. You know, it’s hard to believe ol’ shell head and his fellow Avengers are among the biggest box office draws in the world right now, especially when you consider the quality of the first efforts to bring The Marvel Super Heroes to life back in the 1960s. Anybody remember these intros for the big four…
Yeah, so definitely not up there with the original 1960s Spider-Man theme, but then again, what is? Still, if you consider that each piece is only about 20 seconds long, you have to admit they pack a lot of information in there. Take Iron Man for instance…
Tony Stark makes you feel
He’s a cool exec with a heart of steel.
As Iron Man, all jets ablaze,
He’s fighting and smiting with repulsor rays!
Amazing armor! That’s Iron Man!
A blazing power! That’s Iron Man!
In twenty seconds and six lines you get the basic concept of the character. Not too shabby. It makes me wonder if there’s a way to do that for Christianity. Not the music part, mind you, we get enough bad tunes at mass as it is (oh what, like I’m the first person to ever say it). But is there a way to communicate the fundamentals of the faith in a sound byte?
Well, there’s always the words spoken at the presentation of the Eucharist during mass…
Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.
Or maybe the ubiquitous John 3:16…
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
I don’t know. Any ideas out there on how to explain Christianity in only a handful of words? How about if you’re trying to include an explanation of the Church as well? Let me know what you think. Music optional.
Good evening Mr. & Mrs. Catholic, and all you other Christians at sea, welcome to another edition of the Newsreel. This week, we have a trio of stories with a surprisingly common thread. What is it? Read, and see. And with that tease, it’s off to press…
DATELINE: SRI LANKA – Scientists working in Southern Asia have apparently discovered a new species of tarantula the size of a human face. Fortunately, none of the tarantulas found in Sri Lanka have proven to have bites deadly to humans. Unfortunately, the enormous arachnids have been known to enter dwellings due to massive deforestation in the area. Consequently, the benefits of a non-fatal bite seem somewhat diminished by the potentiality of heart attacks caused by finding a Giant Spider As Big As Your Freakin’ Face sitting in your living room!
DATELINE: BOULDER – Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, scientists at The University of Colorado-Boulder have potentially solved a question once thought unanswerable (or is it just that nobody ever cared to ask), why do so many people find things like fart jokes and people getting kicked in the crotch funny? Studies have now determined that the average person only enjoys inappropriate/gross-out humor when the incongruous subject matter (an action or event violating moral or social norms) results in a benign outcome (no permanent damage to anyone). Most people, it would seem, have a crude streak, but they’re not monsters. Culture, it appears, also plays a part. "It's hard to find a comedy that's funny cross-culturally, because the ways that violations can be benign differ from culture to culture," says study co-author Peter McGraw. "The comedy that is funny cross-culturally tends to involve a lot of physical humor.” So heads up, aspiring filmmakers, if you want to make them laugh in China (and they’re the ones funding your films these days), avoid Woody Allen style dialog and have your actors punch each other in the cajones instead.
DATELINE: HOLLYWOOD – And finally, after years of being considered a Hollywood myth, it now appears possible to demonstrate that cars actually can explode when shot with a single bullet just like you see in the movies. It turns out that this reaction is somewhat akin to the explosions which occasionally occur at flour and sugar factories when heated metal shavings float through the air and come in contact with inert gases. Obviously, the perfect storm of ingredients required for such an explosion means that such events won’t happen as frequently as they do in the movies, but they can still happen. Looks like Roger Corman might have been on to something after all.
So what do these three stories have in common? Not much, really. Well, except maybe that they illustrate scientists doing what scientists should. Science. In none of these stories is there any indication of researchers making any Dawkins-esque leaps of fancy that their discoveries have anything to say about religion, or the fact that they can pick up a test tube somehow disproves the existence of God. These studies simply tell us something about the physical world we live in, which is all we really want them to do anyway. Or as G. K. Chesterton put it, “In these days we are accused of attacking science because we want it to be scientific. Surely there is not any undue disrespect to our doctor in saying that he is our doctor, not our priest… I want my private physician to tell me whether this or that food will kill me. It is for my private philosopher to tell me whether I ought to be killed.”
So kudos to these scientists for doing their job and leaving religion to the experts. The more scientists like them, the more we’ll get results like this…
Scottish nutritionists have developed pizzas said to contain 30% of an adult's guideline daily amount of vitamins and minerals. That means if you eat their pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you’ll get all the nutrients you need. Pizza all day long, now that’s science we can all get behind.
And with that, we leave you until next time, closing the Newsreel, as is our custom, with the immortal words of the great Les Nessman. Good evening, and may the good news be yours.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
So, over at Aleteia this weekend I spent some time with Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain. Ultimately there were a few things which kept me from completely liking it, but I have to give the film its due. Bay has finally made a movie with some honest to goodness real ideas in it. Weird, I know. I’m willing to bet that when you think of Michael Bay, the first thing that probably comes to mind is something more along the lines of this…
Okay, so that was… pointless… stupid… silly? Yeah, all of those. But it makes me laugh every time I watch it, and as Proverbs 17:22 points out, “a joyful heart is the health of the body.”
Plus, as Father James Martin notes in an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, with all the bad stuff going on these days, now is a pretty good time to hold onto our sense of humor and joy. “First, it’s important to have a sense of humility and poverty of spirit. Second, humor helps us get along with people. Humor is a natural social element that is an essential part of human interaction. Third, to gain some perspective. The saints used humor as a tool in their quest for humility and also as a way of gaining some perspective on their place in the universe. And finally, as Archbishop Timothy Dolan has said, ‘Happiness attracts.’ Why would anyone want to join a group of miserable people? It also communicates our belief in the Resurrection. We’re living in Easter time now — Christ has risen. The disciples ran with joy to see the risen Lord. They didn’t mope around.”
So find something to make you smile today. It probably won’t be a Michael Bay film, but I’m sure there’s something else out there.