Friday, January 23, 2015

NOW SHOWING AT A BLOG NEAR YOU

Now Showing Marquee 4

As you’ve probably guessed from the dearth of posts both here and at Aleteia over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had some non-Internet stuff taking up my time. But, with a bit of intercession from Mary and a timely assist from God, it looks like things are slowly getting back to normal. Well, the closest to normal it’s ever going to get around here anyway. Still, rather than waiting around for me to get my act together, why not spend some time checking what some other folks have to say about religion, movies and television.

One sign that things are starting to improve is that our old pal The Sci-Fi Catholic is back from his long Internet sabbatical and reviewing up a storm. For anime lovers he takes a look at “Princess Tutu,” the surrealistic adventures of a duckling who is magically transformed into a young girl so she can become a ballerina. That’s weirdness on a level we can definitely appreciate. If you’d rather watch something more along the lines of what we normally serve up around these parts though, well, D.G.D. has that covered as well with his review of one of J. Michael Straczynski’s early efforts, “Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.” The screenshots alone are worth the read.

Eschewing a lot of screenshots for obvious reasons, R. L. Copple over at Speculative Faith has been thinking about “The Walking Dead” and has some things to say about Christianity, Gore, and Death. Catholic dad Daniel Bearman has also been watching a lot of zombie movies lately and wonders would the teachings of the Catechism actually allow us to kill the undead or not?

If you’d rather stick to less gory, more traditional fare, then join Jason Dietz from NonModern as he takes upon himself the task of rewatching the entire run of every Star Trek series ever, starting with episode that began it all, “The Man Trap.” I can think of worse ways to spend my time.

One of those ways is watching the upcoming Oscars, which I will no doubt do despite my protestations. Yep, there’s nothing like spending a few hours watching Hollywood pat its own back and celebrate movies almost nobody went to see. Oh well, at least we have Catholic Skywalker’s annual "Kal-El's” to honor the movies and performances most folks actually enjoyed in 2014.

And just for the heck of it, head on over to Acts of the Apostasy where LarryD has the scoop on the Pope’s planned visit to the International Space Station sometime in 2016.

There. That should be enough to keep you busy until I’m back up and running on a regular basis. We’ll see you then.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

BIG ASS SPIDER!

Big Ass Spider!

THE PLOT

“An exterminator (Greg Grunberg) and a security guard (Lombardo Boyer) take on a giant, rampaging spider that's spreading terror through the streets of L.A. in this super-sized creature feature co-starring Ray Wise and Patrick Bauchau.” ~ rovi’s AllMovie Guide

THE POINT

Big Ass Spider! It sounds like the title of a bad SyFy movie, doesn’t it? Not that I would be discouraged in any way from watching it if that’s what it turned uot to be, of course. After all, I sat through such SyFy gems as “Ice Spiders,” “Camel Spiders,” and “Arachnoquake,” and truth be told, I’ll probably end up watching the upcoming “Lavalantula” as well (because if someone is going to name their movie “Lavalantula,” they deserve at least one viewer). So, even if “Big Ass Spider!” were nothing more than just another SyFy produced stinker, I’d give it a shot. But that’s not what this is at all. Instead, “Big Ass Spider!” is more like what we would get if SyFy made a movie and actually gave a crap about how it turned out.

In fact, SyFy should study this film to see just what someone can accomplish even if they only have a few dollars to spend. A lot of the credit for “Big Ass Spider’s” good use of limited funds has to go to B-movie master Mike Mendez, a director whose last two films, “The Convent” and “The Gravedancers,” were fairly well received by aficionados of low budget fright flicks. In an interview with The Examiner, Mendez explains, “[Big Ass Spider!] was the smallest budget & shortest schedule I've ever had. Yet it was the most ambitious and largest in scale. It was also my first film shot in a digital format, I'd only done films on 35 previously. It was the first time I ever relied so much on CG effects, and was also the first time I made a PG-13 movie. I was surprised at how natural it all felt.”

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If you need evidence of Mendez’s skill behind the camera, look no further than the excellent slow motion reveal of “Big Ass Spider!’s” opening sequence in which our hero Alex emerges from a flaming wreck amidst a screaming horde of fleeing bystanders while the titular creature destroys a nearby skyscraper. The camerawork is great and the CGI, while it won’t be up for any Academy Awards any time soon, is far above anything offered up by SyFy. In other words, the movie doesn’t look like it was slapped together on someone’s laptop.

Mendez doesn’t get all the credit for “Big Ass Spider!’s” success, though. Greg Grunberg and Lombardo Boyer as the unlikely heroes Alex and Jose make a highly watchable duo. Everybody else in the film (with the possible exception of the ever reliable Lin Shaye as one of Alex’s crotchety customers) stays firmly in B-movie acting territory, but the performances from the two leads really elevate the proceedings. In fact, I’d happily watch Alex and Jose pal around in a whole series of adventures, traveling around the globe squashing the threats of various giant bugs. In other words, yes, I’d like a sequel, which is not something you’re likely to hear about similar SyFy movies. Nobody who is in the least bit sane is clamoring for “Ice Spiders 2.”

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Perhaps what I like the most about “Big Ass Spider!,” though, is that it’s not a mean movie. Oh sure, the spider itself gorily kills dozens and dozens of people, impaling them, eating them, melting off their faces with acidic venom… you know, the usual mayhem. But the non-rampaging spider parts of the film are just kind of nice, especially when the characters of Alex and Jose are onscreen. In most any other film, these two would have been played as complete idiots who continuously screw up and only get the job done by accident. Here, it’s a little more subtle. Both the guys are indeed awkward bumblers in a way (there’s a definite Fred & Barney quality to them), but they’re also shown to have a real blue-collar competence that all the other characters come to respect by the time the credits roll. Well, almost everyone. The scientist who accidentally created the spider isn’t too fond of the pair, but if B-movies have taught us anything it’s that all scientists are utterly insane, so his opinion doesn’t count anyway.

You know, I’d like to think Alex and Jose would have made fine apostles as they seem to be the kind of guys Jesus had in mind when he started filling out his roster. Remember, Jesus didn’t choose any kings, senators, temple priests, scholars or anybody else in ancient Jerusalem’s upper class to be among the twelve. The apostles were all from the lower strata of society which consisted mainly of laborers, craftsmen and small merchants. Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, probably Philip, and possibly Thomas and Bartholomew all took part in their respective family’s fishing businesses; Matthew was a low level tax collector; some traditions hold that Jude and James the Lesser may have been farmers or tradesmen. As for Simon the zealot and Judas Iscariot, who knows, maybe they were fishermen too. Whatever it was they did to earn a shekel, we can probably rest assured they weren’t living the easy life when Jesus found them.

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Dr. Ian Elmer, Lecturer in Biblical Studies at St Paul's Theological College in Australia, believes there’s good reason Jesus chose men with such occupations. “The job of a fisherman in Jesus' day was difficult. Fishermen worked year-round in the heat of summer and the cold of winter, often at night… It is possible, therefore, that Jesus called fishermen to his retinue not only because the imagery evoked by their occupation mirrored their vocation, but also because they were a hardy group of skilled workers and personable salespeople, whose occupation brought them into contact with a wide range of potential customers from all walks of life… From the point of view of the mission-field the conditions of fishing are not at all inappropriate. Seeking people to follow Jesus would take the same care, dedication, and skill used in fishing (Matt 10:5-15; 40-42). The disciples learned that they must seek all kinds of people to follow Jesus; although, as every fisher knows, some would ‘get away’ (Matt 10:14-15). Like Peter and Andrew… Christians are very ordinary, down-to-earth people. The gifts they bring to their Christian vocation are all-too-often the skills inherent to their everyday experiences and occupations. And, similarly, the people to whom they are called to minister are found in their own homes and workplaces.”

Oh sure, God loves and has work for the upper classes too. I mean, he did eventually get around to calling St. Paul to flesh out the details of the New Covenant so the Church could confront its philosophical enemies in the arenas of academia. But in a lot of cases, the experts just aren’t what’s needed. Just as in “Big Ass Spider!,” where the military and scientists proved ineffectual and had to rely on an exterminator and a rent-a-cop to save the day, so it is a lot of the time with God’s work. It’s the construction workers, the janitors, the firefighters, the cashiers, the plumbers, all those laborers who interact with others on a day to day basis, it’s their witness which so often brings Christ into the world. That’s how it was with the apostles and that’s how it still is today. As St. Thomas Aquinas once put it, ‘The Apostles were simple men, unlettered and commonplace… yet they destroyed all the enemies of Christ."

THE STINGER

Oh, that upcoming “Lavalantula” movie, it just so happens to be directed by a guy you may have heard of by the name of Mike Mendez. Okay, so it’s not “Big Ass Spider 2!,” but it’s close enough.

Monday, January 12, 2015

THE JUKEBOX HERO HYMNAL: Hymn 020: After Forever by Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath. I know, right? What are they doing here in The Jukebox Hero Hymnal? After all, aren’t they supposed to be the granddaddy of all satanic rock and roll bands?

Well, you can’t always judge a band by their album covers, can you? While Black Sabbath’s questionable imagery sent more than a few parents into conniptions,  the truth is a lot of the band’s work is surprisingly pro-Christian. And I mean pro-Christian in a way that makes a lot of today’s touchy-feely “Jesus is my buddy” type of Christians look positively wimpy in comparison.

Preeminent rock critic and virulent anti-Christian Lester Bangs recognized this immediately in his scathing article on the band for Creem Magazine in 1972. “You can laugh,” Bangs wrote, “but Black Sabbath are something of the John Milton of rock ’n’ roll… The Christianity running consistently through their songs is cruel and bloodthirsty in the way that only Christianity can be (which is to say, lopping off heads with feverish pleasure, clad all the while in the raiment of righteousness and moral rectitude).”

What the hyperbolic Bangs was objecting to was what many non-believers like him still do to this very day. Black Sabbath, especially in songs like “After Forever,” had the tenacity to suggest some people were actually going to go to hell for turning their backs on God.

Have you ever thought about your soul
Can it be saved?
Or perhaps you think that when you're dead
You just stay in your grave
Is God just a thought within your head
Or is He a part of you?
Is Christ just a name that you read in a book
When you were in school?
When you think about death
Do you lose your breath or do you keep your cool?
Would you like to see the pope
On the end of a rope, do you think he's a fool?
Well, I have seen the truth, yes, I've seen the light
And I've changed my ways
And I'll be prepared when you're lonely and scared
At the end of our days

Yes, right in the middle of a Black Sabbath song, the band even took up for the Pope. No wonder a secularist like Bangs recoiled at such lyrics. Just try and find a modern worship song with those kind of balls. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

“It’s a satanic world.” primary lyricist and bass player Geezer Butler is quoted as having told Rolling Stone in a 1971 interview. “The devil’s more in control now. People can’t come together, there’s no equality. It’s a sin to put yourself above other people, and yet that’s what people do.” And when people live so selfishly, well, the lyrics of “After Forever” tell us there’s a consequence. You know, I think my buddy Jesus had something to say about that as well, didn’t he?

“And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:40-46, NABRE)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

COMING ATTRACTIONS: BIG ASS SPIDER!

Since I didn’t watch anything for Aleteia this week, I thought I’d catch up on a reader requested review for the old home blog. So, be here in a day or two as we take a look at… “Big Ass Spider!”