Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A bit of Patriotic Angst

With as much as we Christians talk about being "in the world and not of the world" (misinterpreted many times) you would think that we would believe that saying the Pledge of Allegiance would be, essentially, pledging our allegiance to an earthly kingdom ... The Kingdom of This World.

This is something that has been going through my mind recently. We live in, to borrow Andrew Peterson's words, a "far country" that is "not our home." In fact, this "far country" is going down the tubes very fast and many Christians are content to watch it burn while complaining about the sorry state of affairs. The world, to them, is nothing but a mounting threat to purity that should be dealt with by putting ourselves in the Christian bubble where everything is safe and discernment is not needed.

In conclusion: is it hypocritical to Pledge the American Flag and then go and pledge the Christian Flag (or vice versa)? The word "treason" comes to my mind. So does Matthew 5:33-37. What do you think?

I'll leave you with Andrew Peterson's song "The Far Country." He's one of the few Christian artists that can actually be called an artist anymore. I encourage you to listen to him for his words, even if his voice isn't all that appealing. I've put my favorite parts in bold.
"The Far Country"
by Andrew Peterson

Father Abraham
Do you remember when
You were called to a land
And didn’t know the way

‘Cause we are wandering
In a foreign land
We are children of the
Promise of the faith

And I long to find it
Can you feel it, too?
That the sun that’s shining
Is a shadow of the truth

This is a far country, a far country
Not my home

In the dark of the night
I can feel the shadows all around me
Cold shadows in the corners of my heart

But the heart of the fight
Is not in the flesh but in the spirit
And the spirit’s got me shaking in the dark

And I long to go there
I can feel the truth
I can hear the promise
Of the angels of the moon

This is a far country, a far country
Not my home

I can see in the strip malls and the phone calls
The flaming swords of Eden
In the fast cash and the news flash
And the horn blast of war

In the sin-fraught cities of the dying and the dead
Like steel-wrought graveyards where the wicked never rest
To the high and lonely mountain in the groaning wilderness
We ache for what is lost
As we wait for the holy God
Of Father Abraham

I was made to go there
Out of this far country
To my home, to my home

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, like the last film, has a brilliant and artistic opening. I hate to say it, but the movie goes pretty much downhill from there. It has its moments of greatness, but all in all cannot live up to the other two films because of its slow pacing and (almost) unintelligible plot. I guess I’ll talk about the bad aspects first.

The second movie, my favorite of the series, sets up a plot that has the potential to be engaging, exciting, and even a bit scary. The third film takes the story set up by Dead Man’s Chest and twists it into a confusing mess of politics, double-crosses, dark mythology, and just plain weirdness. During a few sequences that include Jack Sparrow, you’ll probably be asking yourself if the director has gone completely nuts (peanuts, most likely) … I know I was.

Gone are the creative and fun action sequences that make Dead Man’s Chest my favorite of the trilogy and the semi-light and playful tone of The Curse of the Black Pearl. Jack Sparrow is still just as funny, but his typically clever banter is drowned out by a bunch of unnecessary pirate mythology including, and not limited to, an encounter with the goddess Calypso that is very reminiscent of the end of Disney’s The Little Mermaid (with some added crabs for kicks).

I don’t mean to make the film sound like a total failure. Davy Jones looks just as amazing as in Dead Man’s Chest. In my personal opinion, Davy Jones is the best CGI character every created (sorry, Gollum). He looks completely real and is played to perfection by my favorite actor, Bill Nighy. Keith Richard’s cameo as Jack’s Dad is simply hilarious and I thought I would die when he pulled the guitar out and started strumming.

The climactic battle scenes are typically great. Gore Verbinski (the director of all three movies) knows his way around an action scene unlike any other director working today. It has to be a logistical and aesthetic nightmare to direct one of those things, and Verbinski does it deftly. Lord Cutler Beckett’s fate at the end of one of these scenes is probably my favorite part of the whole movie, and maybe even the whole franchise.

Hans Zimmer’s score for this movie is a masterpiece. Unlike the first two movies that relied heavily on a synthesizer, Zimmer unleashes the full orchestra here and writes new themes that put the score for this movie in a class of its own. Zimmer develops these themes so well that I could swear it was someone else writing the score. Excellent stuff. You should get the soundtrack. I got it earlier this week and have been listening to it non-stop.

In conclusion, At World’s End its worth seeing on the big screen just because its such a grand spectacle. Go to marvel at the weirdness and enjoy the action scenes. I suggest being well versed in the second film before you see this one or else you will be a bit confused (I love the second one and I was still confused). Some of the movie is a lot of fun, but a great majority of it represents creativity run amuck. It’s a shame, because they had a great change to make a compelling story into an excellent film.

My rating: **1/2 out of ****

Saturday, May 19, 2007

CCM Gripes and Grievances, etc.

I was planning on starting my work binge at the Pharmacy on Thursday of this week, but go unexpectedly called in on Monday for four hours. That was fine with me because I wasn't really doing anything. The Pharmacy is like usual: a bit slow at times with a dusting of mean, irate, mental people. The customer I fear the most (the one that has called me a "jackass" in times past) came in this morning and my heart started beating faster than it has in a very long time. This guy is so mean and inconsiderate than when he comes in, my hands start shaking. It was nerve racking and he had an explosion or two this morning. It's all over now, though. Until next time at least.

A nice aspect of working at the Pharmacy is that I know it is run by people who are Christians and desire to have an honest business that is pleasing to Christ. The only stipulation to this is that we play Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) all the time. Those of you who know me know my loathing for most CCM. It's boring, thoughtless, uncreative, and repetitive. Most modern pop music shares these adjectives as well, but I'm not going to cover that right now. My main gripe over the past week at work has been with the group Selah and their shameless covers of a few popular secular songs.

In the last two years, Selah has covered "Bless the Broken Road" by the Rascall Flatts and "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban. In both of these shameful arrangements, Selah has changed the focus of the song from a person (both Groban and the RFs are singing to people) to God. You might say, "Oh, this is nice. Selah is redeeming popular songs by singing them to God." I say that this is something you just CAN NOT do and it goes against everything I have ever been taught or read about the concept of authorial intent.

When someone writes or creates something, it has a specific meaning. There is one meaning that can not and should not be changed. People do this with the Bible all the time and it does terrible things to the faith. It's kind of a spiritual postmodernism ... this is what Selah is guilty of. It's not just doing a nice thing for God ... it's disrespecting Him by taking advantage of someone elses creativity and thrusting it upon Him. For the love of God (literally), WRITE SOMETHING CREATIVE!

We have a history as Christians when it comes to art and creativity. Michaelangelo created some of the most influential paintings and sculptures of all time. Flash to the 20th century and we see J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis creating whole worlds through literature (literature that is still respected today) ... all to the glory of God. Even Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) found ways to reflect God's beauty and truth through some of his music. Check out The Lost Chord, for example.

It's pretty sad that I can't really praise much of anything written of produced by Christians for its artistic merit AND profundity. You're lucky to find anything worth talking about in a Christian bookstore amid all the second-rate novels and "Holy trinkets." Christians need a call to arms when it comes to engaging the culture WITH our message. Outside of preaching the message (which we are most definitely called to do), we need to find creative ways to express the hope that we have been given and the truth that we possess without coming across as a bunch of ignorant hacks that know nothing about craft and artistry. End of griping session.

Lost was extremely well-written this week ... possibly one of the top five Lost scripts in the show's history. Lost has an amazing episode formula with the flashbacks and all and when they hit the nail on the head by making the flashbacks inform the island story narratively AND emotionally ... it's just grand. This week, they did and the result was a very good episode with lots of literary references, great acting, and depth of character. This show just keeps getting better and better. BTW, if anyone else caught the symbolic meaning of the screen-cap above, please comment!

A bunch of my friends are going to Hersheypark on Thursday, but I have to work. It's probably a good thing I'm not going because I don't have the money. I have been selling some stuff online to make some extra cash. I'll get a nice check from the Pharmacy on Thursday, too. I still need to save, though. Such is the life of a college student.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spider-Man 3

I went to see Spider-Man 3 today with the family. It's very enjoyable, but not nearly as good as the second installment.

As usual, the action scenes are stunning and the movie looks great. The lighting in these films have always impressed me. They're always very bright films and that makes them more approachable ... not so horridly dark like some superhero movies tend to be. The music struck me as very fitting in this installment. Even though Danny Elfman was absent for Spider-Man 3, his themes are still there and they're still great. Also, whoever does the opening titles for the Spider-Man franchise is a genius. They're great and serve as perfect reminders of the past movies.

Now for the bad. This time, they decided to stick in a whole bunch of under-developed characters. I have a love-hate relationship with Gwen Stacy. I LOVE Bryce Dallas Howard. She's gorgeous and she's a great actress, but her character was way too shallow. Some more development would have been great on her part. The three villains (yes, three) could also have been stretched out into another movie. If the villains had been developed as much as Doc. Ock in Spider-Man 2, I would have been great. Also, Toby Maguire can't really act that well. When the evil symbiote takes over Peter and makes him give in to his fleshly desires (i.e. become emo), Toby Maguire still can't stop looking like a nerd no matter how hard he tries.

The moral of this one is superb though. It's refreshing to see truth voiced through a big budget Hollywood film. And the morals and lessons in Spider-Man 3 are undeniable, the main one being that the choices that we make that may seem unimportant are what shape us into the people we become later in life. There's also some really cool Christian imagery which I'm sure will be taken out of proportion by Christian critics and spawn books like The Theology of Spider-Man or Finding God in Spider-Man. We can never leave well enough alone, can't we?

Next big blockbuster on the list: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Looks amazing. I want to go at midnight.