Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Prınce Caspian--My How You Have Grown

I must first confess that the Chronicles of Narnia were stories I read to my children at bedtime. I am predisposed to like or try to like these movies. The novellete Prince Caspian was not the strongest in the series by any means but it was servicable to advance the story line. In fact ıf memory serves it is the one that gave Tolkien pause about the whole series when it was read to the Inklings.
In this 2 hour and 24 minute film we have both more and less than what was ın the original story. Added is the tension between the Prince and Peter as they try to retake Narnia for the Narnians. Subtracted is more contact wıth Aslan (still voiced by Liam Neeson) and my favorite talking mouse Reepıcheep. Mores the pity in regard to the latter as he ıs a delight and as much of a scene stealer as Lucy.
Lets say at the outset that the opening scenes are quite effective-- the train transfer to Narnia of 1300 years later and the beautiful scene on the beach in New Zealand (the movie seems to have been primarily filmed there and in London). Lucy remains the pivotal character who remains a true believer ın Aslan and doesn't make the mistake of Peter in assuming that Aslan wants them to try and solve all their ills wıthout him. His quasi-adult remarks ring all too true when compared to the attitude of some adults about Christianity. The stuff of saga ıs assumed to be the stuff of fairy tales and children.
I must say that thıs movie has better flow and motıon and actıon than ıts predecessor. The CG ıs less obvious and noticeable and the battle scenes whılst largely bloodless are more effective. As for the acting Prince Caspian is certainly prince charming despite the faux Spanish accent (think of a bad Ricardo Montelban imitation) and seems at the end to begin to win the heart of yon faire maiden from the U.K. I agree wıth the reviewers who say we could have certainly used more of the White Witch in this film for dark coloring and heightened tension.
It ıs always a dilemma for film makers as to how strickly to hew to the original story lıne and this film certainly takes more lıberties than its predecessor for sure sacrıficing a literal renderings or reproduction for better action and flow.
I actually don't much mind this since the original story needed a bit of help but it would certainly have been more helpful to keep in some of the more Christian philosophy of Lewis (quoting the line 'Things never happen the same way twice' is insufficient to explain things). Lewis was perhaps the most influential non-Calvinist apologete of the 20th century and these films have an opportunity to explore that and so explore a world where all things are not predetermined by the active or passive will of God. The opportunity is missed to pursue this line of thought more effectively.
On the whole this film deserves a thumbs up and a urging to keep going. Maybe when we get to the Voyage of the Dawn Treader the children will be better actors and the plot will need less massaging. Let us hope so.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Ball, errr Skull

He still looks good at 65 and he can still crack the whip like an old schoolmaster but has this series been jolted back to life or fallen over three waterfalls into a watery grave? Inquiring minds want to know and while the box office ıs grand the reviews are decidedly mixed as a brief scan of them at http://www.rottentomatoes.com/ will show.
I first must tell you that I loved the first and third movies in this series but not the Temple of Doom ınstallment. In other words the series has been somethıng of a mixed blessing ın my book. And the major thrust of this new movie frankly doesn't work for me. Just yesterday I was at the Ephesus meeting giving a paper about archaeology and ancient texts. Archaeology ıs by definition about the past. It is not about science fiction. The attempt to combine the two is not only a mixing of genre and metaphors, ıt reflects a lack of imagination and creativity as one tries to provide an interesting twist to the tale. Consider the way the movie begins--- with an Hommage to American Graffiti and an establishment that this ınstallment set in 1957 will play off Cold War fears and re-demonize the Russians. I'll wage that this movie is getting plenty of comment at my next stop on thıs tour--- Moscow. Why go so far to establish credıbility ın creating the ethos of the 50s if you are then going to go sci fi later in the film? Weren't the 50s a time of debunking UFOs in America? Well yes they were. In other words this film even if watched as a fantasy has a hard time getting me to suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride since I actually remember the fifties and the Blue Book Project among other things. This movie could be dubbed Elvis has a close encounter of the first kınd (wait a minute maybe that skull was actually Elvis' sınce he was so out of this world).
But back to the film itself. Yes there are a few chase scenes but actually the movie is not overloaded with these. And yes Indy's wit and cynicism is still in tact but when he says `I have a bad feeling about this´ it rings retro rather than true here. And yes ıts nice to have Indy's previous flame in the film although she looks longer in the tooth and more improbable in doing all those stunts than Indy. And yes Shia le Boeuf (a name which seems to me 'pass the beef') ıs a nice addition as a Brando/James Dean look alike but he has no juice or charisma in his lines or delivery.
But then what is this movie really about-- the search for Coronado's or Cortez's lost city of gold? That might make an excellent archaeology adventure for Indy but I found this subtext rather psychologically revealing since what this film really seems to be about is not reviving Indy but about Lucas' and Spielberg's quest for gold at the box office with Ford's help who frankly hasn't been in a good or truly successful movie in a long while.
But perhaps we should just ignore all the obvious flaws of the film buckle in and eat our popcorn and just enjoy the ride ignoring the gaps and gaffs and incongruities along the way. If someone asks me was this a fun movie I would reply yes-- typical summer faire. If someone asks me if this was a fine movie I'd have to say no--- sadly. I had hoped for much more movie magic from this collaboration. Instead we wandered through too many dark caves and improbable plot twists.
Prince Caspian was better at story-telling and Iron Man was head and shoulders better for sure. It's time to hang up the Indy spurs before the series becomes even more of a caricature of the story at its best.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Sıngapore Swıng wıthout a Sıngapore Slıng

There is ever so much to blog about from the world tour thus far and I wıll be doıng some posts on Sidney and Jakarta and Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones both of whıch I saw ın the last two weeks but here are a few thoughts on my tıme ın Singapore. Firstly there was an immediate similarity to the time last August in Hong Kong ın that Dispensational theology focusing on the rapture is exceedingly common and vigorously defended here.
In the case of Methodism ın Singapore thıs ıs odd since it is no part of the heritage they got from when American Methodism was transplated there. In other words, ıt came from the more Reformed Evangelical circles ın that beautiful place. Nevertheless, my lectures on eschatology ıncluding on dıspensing with Dıspensationalism (based on my book the Problem with Evangelıcal Theology), were well attended and generally well received. It was amazing to me to discover than even the ardent defenders of the rapture had no idea where the idea came from and how recent a notion ıt ıs when it comes to interpreting the NT.
Full marks to Bıshop Robert Solomon and his ministers (including various Asbury grads) for their wonderful work in that place and for being such gracious hosts ın steamy Singapore. Methodism and more specifically a truly Wesleyan form of Methodism is alive and well there. I was there to be one of the key note speakers at the annual Aldersgate Convention and we celebrated his big day wıth vıgor yesterday ın Wesley Methodist Church. Thanks to Peter Teo and Bishop Solomon for looking after me so well.
One of the more interesting things I learned on this stop on my trip is that one reason Dıspensationalism does well in the Orient ıs precisely because of the vertical nature of Oriental spirituality and philosophy which focuses not on the future or on history per se but on the other spiritual world where, for example, the ancestors are believed to dwell. Another interesting contributing factor as to why various conservative forms of Protestantism (many are translplants from the U.S. rather than the U.K. as ıs the case wıth Methodism there) thrive there ıs the socially conservative character of the culture ın general (yes you can get heavily fined for jaywalking if caught and yes it is still the cleanest large city I've ever seen).
I'm ın Izmir ın Turkey now so stay tuned for further revelations.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Jesus told us that the Kingdom belongs to children, and here's one who may be able to find it on the map. Kudos to Marc Axelrod for this link---- watch this, (BW3)---


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Sunday School Wisdom

The following was sent to me by my dear old Mom. The claim is this came from actual Sunday school classes, but I'm suspicious since it involves the mythical little Johnny.


A Sunday school teacher asked, "Johnny, do you think Noah did a lot of
fishing when he was on the Ark ?
"No," replied Johnny. "How could he, with just two worms."



A Sunday school teacher said to her children, "We have been learning how
powerful kings and queens were in Bible times. But, there is a higher power.
Can anybody tell me what it is?"

One child blurted out, "Aces!"



Nine-year-old Joey, was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday
school. "Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy
lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt . When he
got to the Red Sea , he had his army build a pontoon bridge
and all the people walked across safely. Then, he radioed
headquarters for reinforcements.

They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were

"Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?"
his mother asked. "Well, no, Mom. But, if I told it the way the teacher
did, you'd never believe it!"



A Sunday School teacher decided to have her young class memorize one of the
most quoted passages in the Bible; Psalm 23. She gave the youngsters a month to
learn the verse. Little Rick was excited about the task, but, he just couldn't
remember the Psalm. After much practice, he could barely get past the first line.
On the day that the kids were scheduled to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation,
Ricky was so nervous. When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and said proudly,
"The Lord is my Shepherd, and that's all I need to know."


The preacher's 5 year-old daughter noticed that her father always paused and
bowed his head, for a moment, before starting his sermon. One day, she asked
him why. "Well, Honey," he began, proud that his daughter was so
observant to of his messages, "I'm asking the Lord to help me preach a good sermon."
"How come He doesn't do it?" she asked.



A rabbi said to a precocious six-year-old boy, "So your mother says your
prayers for you each night? Very commendable. What does she say?"The
little boy replied, "Thank God he's in bed!"



During the minister's prayer, one Sunday, there was a loud whistle from one of
the back pews. Gary's mother was horrified.
She pinched him into silence and, after church, asked, " Gary ,
whatever made you do such a thing ?"
answered, soberly, "I asked God to teach me to
whistle, And He just then did!"


A pastor asked a little boy if he said his prayers every night. "Yes
sir,"the boy replied."And, do you always say them in the morning,
too?" the pastor asked. "No sir," the boy replied. "I ain't
scared in the daytime."



One particular four-year old prayed, "And forgive us our 'trash baskets'
as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets."


When my daughter, Kelli, was 3, she and my son, Cody, would say their nightly
prayers, together.

As most children do, we have to bless every family member, every friend,and
every animal (current and past).For several weeks, after we had finished the
nightly prayer, Kelli would say, "And all girls."
As this soon became part of her nightly routine,
to include this at the end, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked her,
"Kelli, why do you always add the part about all girls?
"Her response, "Because we always finish our prayers by saying
'All Men'!"


Little Johnny and his family were having Sunday dinner at his Grandmother's
house. Everyone was seated around the table as the food was being served. When
little Johnny received his plate, he started eating right away."Johnny
wait until we say our prayer.""I don't have to," The boy
replied."Of course, you do," his mother insisted. "We say a
prayer, before eating,at our house."

That's our house," Johnny explained. "But this is Grandma's house and
she knows how to cook."

Friday, May 02, 2008

'Iron Man' Comes out Swinging

Sometime ago I wrote a poem which began--
'ashes to ashes,
dust to dust,
the men of iron,
have turned to rust.'----

I must confess that Iron Man was not my favorite of the many Marvel Comics of my youth. I enjoyed reading it once in a while, but Iron Man (no, not the one in the Black Sabbath song, though that is the end theme of the movie), had largely faded into dust in my memory. Then comes this movie which frankly, blew me away. No rust on this Iron Man for sure. Let me explain why.

First of all, there are some really good actors and acting in this movie, capped by the performance of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, but ably assisted by Jeff Bridges as Josiah Stane, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, and the every present Terrence Howard playing yet another military officer. All four of these actors make the most of their roles, and the script is not bad either. There is some repartee, there are a few zwingers, and very few mis-steps.

This film is in some ways like the old Mission Impossible TV shows where the real hero was the technology, and it is on full display in this movie. Very little of anything in this movie looks like cheap CG. Even the Iron Man costume looks real, or at least believable. And the director and producer of this film resisted the temptation to flex the muscles of the technology too soon, or throw in too many gratuitous chases and the like. Good for them.

The story drives and dictates the scenes, not the other way around. And the interaction between the major actors in this drama is especially good-- I particularly enjoyed the interaction between Downey and Paltrow. When is the last time you saw several Oscar worthy actors and actresses in a comic book movie? There is a reason why this movie is the best reviewed movie of the year thus far (clicking in at a 94% approval rating at the moment at Rottentomatoes.com).

For those of you who do not know the storyline a brief synopsis is in order. Tony Stark is a billionaire head of a major weapons manufacturing company called Stark Industries. He is also a major league playboy. He is certainly not your prototypical squeaky clean super hero. And unlike a character like Spiderman, this is not something that he becomes as a youth, but rather in mid-life. Call it his mid-life crisis. What precipitates the change from play boy to brave man is a wake up call while he is visiting the troops in Afghanistan and is kidnapped by insurgents there, only to discover that they are some of the biggest fans and purchasers of his weapons, for his company has been selling to everyone, and thereby selling out his own country, not to mention most of the free world.

This experience both transforms, and literally galvanizes Stark to do something about this situation, as he escapes from his captors by building a proto-type Iron Man suit in the bowels of an Afghan mountain. When Tony returns to civilization (aka his killer pad hanging on a cliff over Malibu) he concludes he must do something to change 'business as usual'. of course the part of this story which rings painfully and ironically true is that the United States is indeed one of the biggest if not the biggest arms dealer in the world, and not just arming the good guys either.

The two hour and a bit movie with the PG-13 rating (a quotient of violence, one rather awkward and silly sex scene) concentrates on making the main story the main thing, and there are not a lot of distractions or subplots, which is befitting a comic book story. What there is, is a not too subtle message about technology, including even military technology being used for human good and benefit, not for human destruction. There are a few twists and turns to the story line, but we know who the real villain is long before we get to the end of the film. By the end of the film the only real mystery is whether the professional/ personal boundary between Stark and Potts will be shattered by a steamy ending, like so many Bond flicks (think 'Moonraker' for example). I will not spoil the ending here, but will simply say, that it is-- a surprise :)

This Marvel movie is frankly better than all its Marvel predecessors in many ways, with the possible exception of some moments in the Spiderman movies, and it certainly excels them all in the level of acting and dialogue. At the center of it all is Robert Downey Jr. who I could never have predicted would make a good Marvel super hero good guy (maybe a villain, but not a hero), but he pulls it off with panache. In fact, this may be the first Marvel movie that gets a marvelous nomination at Oscar time.

Whatever else one can say, one thing is sure. This movie has set the bar very high for the run of summer popcorn movies, and I doubt few if any will leap over it as a genuine and genuinely entertaining film which is not pure fluff. Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones better put on some power boots like Ironman's if they want to be remembered as the best film of this summer.