February 27, 2008
Someone made a discovery a few years ago that I completely missed, recounted in great detail in the book Planet Narnia, and in sketchy detail here. The author makes a strong case for each of the seven Chronicles of Narnia having an intentional thematic correspondence with one of the seven medieval planets, that is: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. The correspondences, according to this scholar, are: LWW - Jupiter, PC - Mars, VDT - Sun, SC - Moon, HHB - Mercury, MN - Venus, LB - Saturn.
Of course, I'm always fascinated by this sort of thing, and the post is quite interesting. I kind of want to read the book now, and really want to read Lewis's poem "The Planets" (which doesn't seem to exist online, sadly).
February 26, 2008
The Sharpton Challenge Strikes Back
There are two good reasons for selecting that title for my response to this. The first is that this is a sequel. As to the second, well . . . The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that I don't have many favorite sci-fi characters outside of Star Wars, I have favorite sci-fi authors: Wells, Verne, Asimov, Clark, Bradbury, LeGuin, Zahn, etc.
There are a few exceptions to this: R. Daneel Olivaw (Asimov's epic, multi-series future earth saga), Academician Prokhor Zakharov (Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri), Sarah Kerrigan (StarCraft). Then there are movies and TV shows . . . Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Back to the Future, Firefly. But with a few exceptions, what I really appreciate there, too, are the plots (and, it has to be said, the special effects).
So this has to be a list of my favorite characters (pretty much a list of scum and villainy, as it were) from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, as anyone who ever read this post will understand:
1.) Han Solo: Han Solo is, very clearly, the best character from the movies (although generally far cooler before he let a certain princess get his number). So, if you really like that pre-infatuation Solo, you'll love the fact that there are several EU books devoted to that period of his life, and several more that let him go off on his own and really live up to that name. And several of them are pretty good. Favorite moments: Anything involving Han in an asteroid belt. Most notably the chase scene from The Empire Strikes Back and the hilarious attempt to live up to that former glory and best piloting records (set by his own children) in Vector Prime.
2.) Corran Horn: This guy has it all. He's a Corellian fighter pilot who becomes a Jedi, and stars in a significant percentage of my favorite Star Wars books, including the amazing X-Wing series. Favorite moments: His derring-do investigations as a member of CorSec in "Side Trip," revelation of the jaw-dropping twist at the end of The Krytos Trap and unexpected battle against five saber-wielding Dark Jedi in I, Jedi (which Luke has to bail him out of).
3.) Grand Admiral Thrawn: A blue-skinned, red-eyed Chiss alien who managed the rank of Grand Admiral in the extremely xenophobic Imperial Navy by dint of his unmatched tactical genius. He attributed his insight into the enemy to a rigorous study of the art of whatever race he came up against. Whatever works, man. Whatever works. Favorite moment: Pretty much anything he says or does in the Thrawn Trilogy.
4.) Mara Jade Skywalker: Kinda like Han, Mara was much cooler before she married into the Skywalker family. She was much closer to the right idea when she attempted to kill Luke on their first meeting, a holdover response dictated by her days working as a Force-sensitive secret assassin taking orders directly from Emperor Palpatine. Ah, well. She still pulls some pretty sweet stunts from time to time. Favorite moments: Probably the exciting investigation of the Hand of Thrawn complex in the Thrawn duology.
5.) Wes Janson: Janson is actually a character from the original movies, but not many casual viewers could tell you when or where. He's one of the pilots during the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. However, his best work is collaborating with Wedge Antilles as part of both Rogue Squadron and Wraith Squadron, as detailed by Aaron Allston. Favorite moments: Three words, "Yub yub, Commander."
February 19, 2008
If you haven't yet . . .
. . . do your country a service and go here to see No End in Sight. It will take an hour and 42 minutes of your time. Watch it in chunks if you have to. This eminently fair and balanced Oscar-nominated documentary not only dares to suggest, through interviews with the very first people on the ground in Iraq, that our invasion of that country was one of the most poorly-planned and ill-advised military operations in our history (perhaps all of history) . . . but that it didn't have to be.
Information is power. Go watch the documentary.
Christians in the Movies: 2005-2007
This was way too long to dump on Sharpton's comment section. That would be evil. Find the rest of the conversation here.
But what about in entertainment?
Well, you came to the right place. I should start with the very clear disclaimer that, as the savvy reviewers over at Christianity Today could tell you, it's a mistake to limit one's search for Truth and Love and Redemption in entertainment solely to films with Christian characters . . . but this is about how Christians themselves are portrayed, so we'll let it slide.
I should also note that, as you may already know, I firmly oppose the Michael Medved, "Hollywood vs. Religion" nonsense that posits some sort of intentional, strategic assault on our faith by the entertainment industry . . . as if it were ideologically homogenous enough to agree about anything beyond "I want my movie to make me a bundle of cash."
I decided arbitrarily to look at movies starting in 2005 . . . just to go back during the last few years. I've seen just over 200 movies produced from 2005 on, and here are some of the examples I nosed up of movies that portray Christians/Christianity, in no particular order:
Into Great Silence - A 160-minute glimpse into the spiritually full lives of the Carthusian monks in a monastery in the heart of the French Alps. Not only does it demonstrate the richness of a life devoted to the service of Christ, the film itself is a deeply spiritual experience in quiet meditation and contemplation of the Holy.
V for Vendetta - Features every anti-Christian cliche in the book, from the pedophiliac bishop to the ambitions we Christians clearly harbor for fascistic domination. Fortunately, its characters, like its source material, are pure cartoon.
Junebug - Prominently features a scene at a church potluck in a small southern town, with prayer and singing and general fellowship that feels so warm and genuine I'm still not convinced the filmmakers didn't just set up a camera during an actual church gathering and toss their actors into it. Little movie, lots of critical acclaim . . . launched the rapidly-ascending career of Amy Adams (Enchanted, Charlie Wilson's War).
Serenity - While I personally think there is more than one way to interpret Shepherd Book's statements like "I don't care what you believe, just believe," one could legitimately put it in your "wishy-washy" category. Book is, to me, a moving example of a principled and loving Christian, then again the faith he practices is an odd (and not very developed) futuristic brand . . . so maybe it shouldn't count as anything at all.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - In general, I'm steering well clear of movies that are merely symbolically linked to Christianity, but this particular story is so widely-known to have originated from within "our camp" that I feel I can legitimately toss it out there. Did a pretty tidy business at the box-office, and should allow for the production of all 6 sequels in the coming years.
Driving Lessons - The mother of the main character is a petty, vindictive, narrow-minded and extremely hypocritical caricature of a Christian (played by Laura Linney, who seems to relish such roles). The movie sucked in almost every way and was pretty much panned by audiences and critics alike.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose - Raises deep spiritual questions while casting a Catholic priest in a highly-sympathetic light as a compassionate man of faith and simultaneously featuring a Christian lawyer as a man whose faith is not based solely on blind, non-thinking acceptance.
The Da Vinci Code - My disdain for the book is no secret, and the film wasn't much better. The target of this film is clearly a fantasy version of the Catholic Church, which finds its sinister self at the center of the ultimate in ludicrous conspiracy theories.
Keeping Mum - A surprising and delightful dark British comedy which centers around the family of an Anglican minister played by none other than Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean). My favorite moment is when the minister delivers a sermon on grace that he has spent the entire film working on, only to be suddenly struck in the middle of it by a powerful action of grace on his own life that he had failed to notice until just that moment.
Jesus Camp - Hard to call this a "portrayal" I guess, since it's a documentary. The slant of the portrayal is all in the viewer . . . many Christians could watch this and cheer. Me . . . not so much with the cheering. Notable for having caught footage of Ted Haggard preaching a sermon against homosexuality just a few months before that whole gay prostitute thing blew up in his face. Anyway, this is an unflinching look at what some of us are really like.
Joyeux Noel - Features perhaps the most moving celebration of mass you'll ever see, given by an Irish minister (elsewhere shown to be a courageous and compassionate Christian) to a gathering of mortal enemies in the midst of a WWI battlefield, brought together in the peace, joy and grace represented by the birth of Christ.
Deliver Us from Evil - Again with the documentaries and the "portrayals" . . . This one's about the Catholics again. Specifically, it's about a particular priest who was moved from parish to parish by his supervisor to avoid massive scandal from all the kids he kept molesting. Not really an indictment of Christians or Christianity, though.
Amazing Grace - The story of devout Christian William Wilberforce and his lifelong struggle to end slavery in England is brought to life in this film starring Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd). Wilberforce's faith is definitely not downplayed . . . very reminiscent of Paul Scofield's portrayal of Sir Thomas More from A Man for All Seasons.
There Will Be Blood - Features a rather wild-eyed preacher who is 2 parts raving loon and 1 part slimy opportunist. While his church features baptism and a cross, it is clearly some kind of fringe cult . . . Never explicitly called Christian, I kept expecting them to pull out a bag of snakes. To the best of my memory, the name of Jesus is never even mentioned.
Lars and the Real Girl - At the center of this story is a tight-knit church community that surrounds its members with a safety net of love and support, even when they're acting really, really weird (as Lars is). (As they wonder how to deal with the Lars situation, the pastor simply asks "What would Jesus do?" and that settles the discussion.) The pastor offers relevant sermons straight from the Bible. Currently nominated for a screenplay Oscar.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days - Nominated for Best Foreign Film a few years ago . . . tells the story of devout Christian Sophie Scholl and her courageous and principled stand against the evils of Nazi Germany which ultimately cost her her life.
Cinderella Man - The title character and his family are devout Catholics who value integrity. They are part of a church led by a priest very much invested in his congregation, which gathers about them as a family in prayer at various points.
Adam's Apples - A mean neo-Nazi gets more than he bargained for when he gets sent to Pastor Ivan for rehabilitation into society. Unable to take advantage of Ivan's trusting, happy nature, he sets out to destroy that sunny idealism instead, but will he prove to be any match for a genuine holy fool?
A lot of pastors and commentators and people who maybe go to the movies two or three times in a year like to warn us all about the evils of Hollywood and the anti-Christian agenda and God knows what. The implication being that you can't make a trip to the multiplex without running into an ad for the next blockbuster with a lousy Christian stereotype. But I'm out there, on the ground, watching that big screen like a hawk and I'm here to tell you it just ain't so. Films where Christians are bad are few and far between (far more rare than the real deal, unfortunately) and when they do show up, no one pays them much mind except the Christians waving picket signs out front.