Archive for July, 2008

Reaper – A Review

“Bounty Hunter for Satan” “Giving the Devil his due?”

On the surface, Reaper has a lot in common with Chuck. In both we have young twentysomethings cast adrift on the tides of life not knowing where they are going so they bide their time by working at a big chain superstore, The Work Bench (read: Home Depot) instead of Buy More (read: Best Buy). Starring a group of slackers, with witty banter propelling the show—just like the heroes from Clerks—which explains the chemistry produced by the pilot episode having been directed by Kevin Smith.

In spirit, Reaper is the inheritor of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison) as the chosen one and his band of Scoobies also being a collection of slackers. On his 21st birthday, little things start to change about his life, such as being followed by dogs, echoing The Omen, and moving a falling crate with his mind. And carjacked by Satan (Ray Wise, 24). Apparently Sam’s parents sold HIS soul to the devil in order to save his father’s life. The devil then has Sam tracking down hell’s escapees to return them, with him supplying the necessary hardware (such as the demon sucking mini-vac).

Harrison plays as endearing a loser as Chuck’s Zachary Levi, still living at home with his over-indulgent parents (except for the whole “your mom and I sold your soul to the devil” thing). Tyler Labine essentially plays the same less manic Jack Black character he played on the short-lived Invasion. Wise, however, is the standout, having a ball playing a confident, rascal of a Satan (certain roles, Satan, the Joker, tend to bring out the best/worst in people). He’d steal the show if his co-stars weren’t such able players.

“Sam, there’s no such thing as the devil.” –Ben (Rick Gonzalez)

The Christian story asserts a spiritual aspect to reality, yet the impact of this spiritual world on our physical one is rarely discussed, probably for fear of sounding ignorant against the backdrop of our modern age, our theology suddenly the equivalent of some backwards people. A benevolent Creator beyond our ken and understanding we could believe in; however, angels and demons, well, that’s myth-talk.

Yet angels/demons are spiritual, free moral agents, who also make choices and have actions which have consequences in our world. This spiritual aspect to evil takes on a personal dimension in the form of Satan. “The adversary” is a force not equal to God, not God’s shadow self, nor the demonic-in-Yahweh as some people try to explain him. He would be a created being, the most powerful of the spiritual “principalities and powers,” the highest of what some cultures might call a god.

“There’s no way another person could sell another person’s soul … because all myths say God granted humans free will. There’s no way you could give away or sell another person’s essence.” –Ben

There are two paradoxical ideas running through the show. The first is that spiritual evil exists, demons and the like; and that while evil is to be opposed, it can’t be opposed with evil, because that only strengthens the cause of evil. Evil must be opposed with good.

The second is that our hero, the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for works for Satan. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words (Matthew 12:25-26): “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” So I was left with the interesting dilemma: Can you be doing God’s work if you don’t know who it is you actually serve? Or put another way, can you think you serve one master when in reality you serve another?

Cyrus (from the book of Isaiah) was not a God-fearing individual, yet he’s referred to as “the anointed” and used by God for his work. It’s but one example, but an idea worth thinking about. Still, Sam needs to examine himself and his mission. When you find yourself saying “the Devil was right”, it might be time to fact check your life and calling.

“I’ve seen how this all ends. Don’t worry: God wins.” –The Devil

Armed with telekinetic powers and his Red Devil vacuum cleaner (or whatever personalized vessel he requires for each fugitive), Sam and the Gang subdue demonic fugitives. I wonder how long they can stick to its monster-of-the-week formula and structure before developing more of an over-arching storyline. However, teamed with Supernatural, Reaper makes for a great evening of creepy and fun chills.

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Shutter – A Review

Who would have thought we’d be one day craving Polaroid cameras? Continuing the grand tradition of remaking Asian horror movies (see The Ring, The Eye, The Grudge), along comes Shutter. Set in Tokyo, but starring a pretty white couple so that, you know, an American audience can relate, this East meets West mishmash fails both as an atmospheric piece and as a decent remake.

In this “I know what you did last cliché”, our intrepid pair of newlyweds honeymoon in Japan so that the famous photographer husband, Benjamin Shaw (Joshua Jackson), can get work done while his wife, Jane (Rachael Taylor) comes along for the free ride. The pair are involved in a car accident and the spirit of the woman follows them, mostly by spoiling their photographs.

Essentially a morality tale, once the reason for the haunting is revealed, the movie masks exposition as dialogue and has a “spirit photos? My boyfriend runs a magazine dedicated to that” brand of plot movement. It tries to get by on boo moments, without building the kind of atmosphere this kind of quiet ghost story demands.

“We are spirit and spirit is energy. When the body dies, the flesh rots. The spirit leaves but the energy remains.” –Murase (Kei Yamamoto)

Ghost stories are their own spiritual connection as they are the most versatile of metaphor: from being echoes of emotions, memories, unfinished business, or even guilty conscience. These disembodied spirits point to one thing: some part of us is eternal (we have souls) and we don’t know what happens to them when we die. They hint at an unknown reality beyond death and the questions we have about it.

Like sitting around a Ouija board conjuring up spirits, American filmmakers keep tapping the spirit of movies since past, remaking them with abandon. Essentially, bringing the ghosts of the original to the party, ironically ignoring the fact that the departed hate to be disturbed. J-Horror (Japanese horror, which is typically quiet, slow-paced ghost stories where young women are terrorized by some sort of malevolent supernatural entity), with its adherence to creepy atmosphere and images over plot, rarely translates well and you’re better off renting the original movie rather than suffering through a tepid recreation of it. Without any sort of emotional gravity, Shutter is about as tepid as it gets.

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Asylum – A Review

Haunted houses. Haunted hotels. Sleepaway camps. Small town. Rural hillside/country. There are quite a few archetypal settings for horror movies and asylums are another popular favorite. Unfortunately for the movie Asylum, it’s already working within the shadow of the far superior asylum psychological horror movie, Session 9. Replete with a story rooted in characterization, a chilling atmosphere, and good performances, Session 9 is a classic of the asylum set movies. Asylum will be forgotten as soon as I’m done typing this review.

There are no characters in this movie, but rather a collection of Breakfast Club rejects: dillweed creepy guy, promiscuous girl, brooding guy, sleazy lothario, virginal nerdy guy, likeable POV girl, and assorted red shirts (the characters from Star Trek: The Original Series who were usually killed off). These college freshmen are assigned to the brand new, yet not quite working right, creepy college dorm built on an Indian burial ground, I mean, mental asylum. From here, they are stalked by the ghost of the doctor who ran the asylum with his torturous ways. In other words, he’s a less imaginative version of Freddy Krueger (from the Nightmare on Elm Street series).

“I can cure you. Give me your pain.” –Dr. Burke (Mark Rolston)

Pain is real, especially and particularly to the person experiencing it. Suffering is individualized, experienced alone. Pain is theirs to deal with. While suffering can ultimately be meaningful, if you let it, that’s not something you want to tell someone who’s experiencing pain.

The source of the pain for the (collection of walking clichés we’ll charitably call) characters in Asylum was how they’d become locked into these false ideas of themselves. All of their lives they had been told they were stupid, fat, or otherwise not good enough. They had been abused to the point where they were afraid to trust, thus becoming trapped behind their walls, defenses too high to let anyone in. At the same time, their souls desperately cry out to be known for who they really are.

“Give me your suffering.” –Dr. Burke

They are guilty of what many of us are guilty of: carrying around pain we don’t have to. Some choose ways of “numbing you to the truth” rather than deal with their issues. While his diagnosis was correct, (“guilt is your disease”), Dr. Burke’s methods of removing that pain left a little to be desired.

“I’m a good doctor. Do you believe that?” –Dr. Burke

A better doctor might suggest a different kind of unconventional methods. He might offer himself up as an example, saying that we could find redemption in forgiveness, a forgiveness that needs to start with ourselves, then to our parents and those others who have hurt us.

Granted, this was directed by David R. Ellis, who brought us Snakes on a Plane, but Asylum didn’t even have that brand of “so bad it’s good” charm about it. What most disappointed me was that there was actually some potential in this movie. Using his victims’ pain and insecurity against them has subtext to be explored within the characters, but the filmmakers opt to reduce Asylum to a mere slasher flick. And the movie doesn’t try to be anything deeper than it presents itself: an hour and a half of cheap thrills.

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And now a self-serving press release – The Church Basement Roadshow

Emergent Church Leaders offer new vision for Christians; bringing their message of change and hope to Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS, July 14–Controversial for a “nothing is too sacred to be questioned” theology, Tony Jones and two other emergent church leaders will conclude their nationwide tour in Indianapolis.

The trio, Jones, along with Doug Pagitt and Mark Scandrette, will be speaking and performing at Lockerbie Central United Methodist Church on Monday, August 4th at 7:00 PM. Under the guise of The Church Basement Roadshow: A Rollin’ Gospel Revival, the three will spread the emergent message of a generous, hope-filled Christian faith in the style and cadence of the tent revival preachers of a hundred years ago.

They plan to have fun with the tent revival theme, even wearing frock suits and selling healing balm. “This will be unlike any book tour people have seen,” said Jones. “We’ll be barnstorming the country, shaking the rafters with our ancient-future message of hope.” “People will laugh and sing,” Scandrette added, “But they’ll also be challenged to join the Jesus Revolution.”

Jones, Pagitt, and Scandrette have acquired many fans and critics. As leading voices in the emergent movement–the decade-old phenomenon of pastors, artists, and churchgoers who are rethinking church and Christianity—the three are wary of the narrow and failed politics of the Christian right. In turn, they are also dismayed by the plight and declining influence of the more liberal protestant churches.

Through their writings, work as pastors, and community outreach, Jones, author of The New Christians, Pagitt, author of A Christianity Worth Believing, and Scandrette, author of Soul Graffiti, have sought a different and hopeful vision for the church. Ultimately, their hope for Christianity is one that that they feel makes more sense for a globalized, pluralistic, postmodern world.

The authors’ books have found critical acclaim. Publisher’s weekly called Jones’ The New Christians ““the single best introduction to the Emergent Church movement…. The mainline denominations are dying, and the hyperindividualism of evangelicalism is unsatisfying, so many…have decided to recreate church for postmodern times.”

About the Authors/Performers
Tony Jones is the national coordinator of Emergent Village (www.emergentvillage.org), and a doctoral fellow in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Doug Pagitt is the founder of the network that became Emergent Village, and he is the founder and pastor of Solomon’s Porch, regularly recognized as one of the most innovative churches in the world. Doug speaks across the country and internationally about missional Christianity and church leadership, and he has appeared on ABC, CNN, PBS, NPR, and in the New York Times.

Mark Scandrette is the executive director and cofounder of ReIMAGINE, a center for spiritual formation in San Francisco that sponsors city-based learning initiatives, peer learning groups, and the Jesus Dojo, a year-long intensive formation process inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus. Mark is a founding member of SEVEN, a monastic community working as advocates for holistic and integrative Christian spirituality. He is a recognized speaker and poet, and his innovative

For more information on the Church Basement Roadshow visit to Indianapolis, please contact Mike Oles, 317-354-3207, mikeoles3@mac.com. Also, please visit the official Church Basement Roadshow webpage at www.churchbasementroadshow.com

Lockerbie Central is at 237 N. East St., Indianapolis. Admission is $10.

About: Lockerbie Central United Methodist is a progressive and emergent church located in downtown Indianapolis. The 150 year old church building not only hosts worship services, but is home to an all organic and fair trade coffee shop, a lively lineup of arts events, and cutting edge organizing around poverty and environmental issues.

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X-Files: I Want to Believe – A Review

“An Apostate Agent” or “Faith in the Unknown”

Like The Simpsons Movie, one can’t help leaving The X-Files: I Want to Believe feeling like they just paid good money to watch something they should have watched on television free (say a drawn out two-parter in the middle of season one when the chemistry between the lead duo wasn’t quite certain).

Having been off the air for six years, the premise of the show was deceptively simple: an FBI agent, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), was consigned to the Siberia of the intelligence community, investigating marginalized, unsolved cases deemed X-Files. Fellow agent, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) was tasked with applying her scientific background to keep her partner in check, as he was prone to make leaps of faith by assessing paranormal involvement to many of their cases.

Keep in mind: their dynamic was part of their appeal.

The X-Files were basically made up of two kinds of shows: the mytharc episodes and the monster of the week episodes. With The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Chris Carter has wisely chosen to ditch the storylines related to the underlying mythology of the series. To wit, that aliens live among us and are part of a colonizing effort. During the course of their make-it-up-as-they-go-along mytharc storylines, the mythology had become strained to the point where disbelief couldn’t be sustained.

Wisely, the writers have eschewed the mythology in favor of the other kind of episode (it’s easier to think of this movie as another episode). The monster of the week episodes are what drew in the casual fans of the show, the ones who didn’t as slavishly follow the mythology as closely as the other X-Philes. So there’s no complaining about the idea behind the premise of the movie. The movie itself, on the other hand, leaves a bit to be desired.

With Scully and Mulder there was little fun and less spark or sense of the cool monster beaters of old. Instead, there is too much of the last two seasons brand of serious crap lingering. Maybe the creators were setting up a return to their familiar dynamic, where we have two people who love each other dearly but can’t work out as a couple. Their respective single-minded drives being the main obstacle in why they wouldn’t work as a couple. Regardless, it came across as an uncomfortable peeking in on the happily ever after of old friends you’d come to know only to see them not work out.

Then there’s the plot itself.

Brought in by X-Files: The Next Generation members, Xhibit and Amanda Peet (Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip), whose partnership loosely mirrors Scully and Mulder’s, the team investigates the case of a missing FBI agent. Aided by a psychic ex-priest, Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connelly doing a poor Clyde Bruckman impersonation), convicted of “buggering 37 altar boys”, there is a very human evil purveying in organ harvesting. In other words, there is little paranormal, hardly any X to speak of, about this case, which plays out more like a bad episode of Criminal Minds.

Keeping the television structure, the B story arc was even less compelling. Scully, in her new life as a doctor, has bonded with a patient, a Christian (no, seriously, the character’s name is oh-so-subtly named Christian Fearon, played by Marco Niccoli) in need of stem cell treatment in order to prevent his untimely demise.

However, the themes and ideas in the movie are worth considering.

“Let’s just say I want to believe.” –Mulder

Mulder had an unwavering faith in not only the paranormal in general, but in the existence of extraterrestrials in particular. Scully was the skeptic, always looking for scientific, rational explanations for the phenomena they dealt with. Ironically, when it came to matters of spirituality, their roles were reversed. In either case, both faiths are challenged by the evidence.

We want to believe, but we don’t necessarily know in what or in whom. Anyway of knowing, all truth journeys, begin with a leap of faith. Whether to trust in our senses, empirical evidence, and measurable/reproducible data; or to assume that this is not all there is to life, that there is more to us than body and consciousness including a spiritual dimension to the universe beyond our senses.

“Try proving that one.” –Scully

Science and spirituality are both truth journeys, ultimate seeking answers using different methods, and don’t necessarily have to be at war with one another. Faith isn’t the same as scientific theory, in fact, the closest thing you could equate faith to is a (an assumed) presupposition. However, in spirituality as in science, faith/assumed presuppositions still need to be questioned and tested (with how you perform such tests being different. With faith, the testing, results, and analysis are going to be experiential and, frankly, subject to interpretation (probably within a faith paradigm).

“You could be right, Scully. But what if you’re wrong?” –Mulder

Faith is a tricky and tenuous thing, easy to misplace. Ironically, questioning and continually testing it helps in not misplacing one’s faith. Faith often fears uncertainty/doubt when it shouldn’t since these are all signs of people thinking through their faith. In fact, faith can be a relatively simple math problem: History/evidence + personal experience + intuition = faith.

“Maybe that’s the answer: Don’t give up.” –Mulder

Father Crissman and Mulder find themselves in very similar situations. Both were cast out and excommunicated by the institution they loved and served so well and faithfully (one by their own hand, the other by the institution itself). Yet they both seek re-engagement with their respective institutions, hoping through them to connect to their higher belief pursuit.

Scully, on the other hand, finds herself asking the hard questions, wrestling wi
th the problem of evil, wondering why God would allow anyone to be born only to expose them to endless suffering, which leaver her “lying here cursing God for all those cruelties.” Each of them wondering where the detestable desires come from, even if they concede that they don’t come from God. Most times, in answer to their questions, all they see is through a mirror darkly.

“I acted on that belief.” –Scully

Maybe in the search for those answers, faith can be found and refined. In the end, the true measure of faith is in the doing, letting what we do define us and our faith. In the mean time, sometimes all we’re left with is the simple prayer “Lord I believe, help me with my unbelief.”

“We want to put our faith in God now.” –Margaret Fearon (Carrie Ruscheinsky)

Written by series creator Chris Carter and his main lieutenant, Frank Spotnitz, The X-Files: I want to Believe promises to be a stand alone suspense thriller out of the horror mold as it seeks a new generation of fans. Sure, they’ve lost the sexual tension in favor of a bond of love, but that’s not the biggest hurdle to enjoying this movie. Mulder and Scully are working the X-Files from the outside looking in, often wandering around aimlessly looking depressed (and looking their age). If there is a next go around, and that’s a mighty big “if”, they need to seriously get back to basics and give the fans what they want. Or at the very least, a good stand alone movie.

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Cross-posted to Blogging in Black

I’ve refrained from commenting on this firestorm in a teapot 1) because I needed something to write about for this month’s blog for Blogging in Black and 2) because I know that EVERYONE follows the day to day online drama of genre writing.

Or maybe not, so let’s play catch up.

The overarching issue, in general, is whether we have the right to post personal/professional correspondence. On point, the issue is if you get a rejection letter from an editor and it contains racial epithets, should you post it on your blog?

Needless to say, some of the genre writers of color had a few words to say about this. Though the original site of the posted letter is undergoing some retroactive sanitation, the internet is forever and K. Tempest Bradford handled her business, not only preserving some of the note’s salient points but pretty much covering most of what I would have said on the topic.

Tobias Buckell dissected the various stages of racist thought (and then documented said offending editor’s further digging himself into a hole). Some people may consider these two writers part of the virtual lynch mob or participants in “political correctness run amuck” (a phrase usually doled out by a troll hiding behind a name like TooChickenSh*tToPostUnderMyRealNameButAren’tIBraveBehindMyKeyboard). To me they’re just frontline soldiers up against what we have to face entirely too often: a mentality that needs to be recognized for what it is, highlighted when it occurs, and rooted out.

Professionalism is a two way street. I, as a writer, should try and maintain professional practices as part of me submitting stories and corresponding to editors, agents, publishers, etc. I fully expect professional treatment in return from those self-same folks. I know plenty of editors who post missives received from disgruntled submitters, some delete the offenders names, some do not (preferring to leave the bloody stump of their head on a virtual spike on teh Interwebz as an example of what not to do).

The larger issue may be whether any correspondence should be posted on the Internet. Online etiquette says no, at least not without the person’s permission. “Piss me off etiquette” says you might reap what you sow. To be honest, I fully recognize that this is a digital age, so ALL of my correspondence is written with the idea that it is one button click from being forwarded to the entire online world. I imagine most editors should know this, too.

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Indianapolis Loves Its Panhandlers … Here’s the Broom

I live not too far from the 38th and 465 exit in Indianapolis which means I pass the same rotating cast of panhandlers on a regular basis. I know the vets (who can’t quite pinpoint what war they were veterans of) and I know the folks trying to get home (who turn down rides to said home) and I know the lady who’s been pregnant for the last three years (and have come to admire her growing set of heart-tugging props).

On the other hand, when I walk the streets of downtown, I encounter folks who’ve had bumps in their lives, who have found themselves homeless, and are looking for any chance to get some sort of traction in life. If only to get through the day.

In our cynical age, it becomes easy to brush with a broad stroke, writing off all panhandlers as lazy folks looking to get over or take advantage of well-intentioned folk. Mayor Ballard proposes to sweep them under the rug, I mean, direct them to services by posting panhandling boxes: “The reason they stay out there is because we keep giving them money and giving them food,” Ballard said. “We want them to come in and get the services they need. We need to stop giving them money, then they will come in.”

Five donation boxes, much like parking meters, were installed downtown. Money collected would be given to local agencies who help those in need and kind-hearted folks can drop off donations, instead of having to deal with individuals. Services are one way to handle the panhandling problem. Connecting folks with the proper resources is a big part of the battle. But where there is a system, there are cracks, and many of the panhandlers have already fallen through the cracks once.

Even on the assumption that a government solution can manage to funnel money to the proper channels, in a lot of ways, they miss the point: the immediacy of donation. Forget the bureaucratic time delay between donation and aid, there’s the impact of being a decent human being. Sometimes the act of personally giving is simply a matter of acknowledging the existence of the panhandler as a human being.

So darn those homeless folks, being all inconvenient and unsightly, reminding us of our failures as a society. Yes, I know some can be belligerent and I know there is the concept of personal responsibility in regards to the plight of the needy. But homeless toll booths aren’t compassionate. It’s a broom for folks who already are invisible.

Take the Mic from Jesse

Despite Rev. Jesse Jackson’s unfortunate fascination with Barack Obama’s testicles, I agree that the last thing we need is another brother pointing the finger at the black community in front of white folks. It smacks more of them staring down their nose in judgment of the community while seeking white folks approval than it does truly engaging in conversation. However, I don’t think this charge can stick to Barack Obama.

Obama wants to expand President Bush’s federal assistance for faith-based social service programs to allow those closest to the problems to be on the frontlines of being the solution. However, this comes on the heels of a speech Obama gave last month chastising black fathers who were “acting like boys instead of men,” and adding that “we need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child — it’s the courage to raise one.”

Obama gets it coming and going: first he doesn’t speak enough to the problems of the black community; and then it’s “oh, oh, oh, you can’t say that about us, that’s condescending” or “talking down to black people.” I think the issue is two fold: one, the nature of family meetings, and two, the best ways to address the problems facing the black community.

In recent years, some of our prominent leaders (though I don’t recall ever having these elections) have spoken about the problems the black community faces. Bill Cosby got batted around by some. Before that, even Jesse Jackson himself had a “family meeting” where he spoke about the problems we faced and what we had to do to solve them. Things have gotten so strange for me, I found myself agreeing with Al Sharpton when he said “The civil rights movement of the 21st century must be government accountability and personal responsibility.”

So I don’t think anyone’s quibbling with the message, per se, but rather where the family meeting is held and in front of whom, because no one wants dirty laundry/family business aired. Barack Obama’s not running for Preacher in Chief. He’s not running for Chief of Black Folks. He’s running for President. Of all of us. In the meantime, I’ll be here, not thinking about what I’d like to do to his testicles and still waiting on my 40 acres and a mule.

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I Have Drunk the Necon Kool Aid

Necon Day One:

Do not get a ride with an anarchist.

That’s the first lesson learned when it came to attending Camp Necon. Necon is a more intimate con (I can see why Mo*Con was being compared to it – I can only hope/dread to keep and live up to such a tradition). As such, I was picked up by a friend I had only known online, lokilokust (he now of the shorn beard). Unfortunately, I came to learn something about my friend loki: as an anarchist, he doesn’t believe in directions. “Wherever you are, you are somewhere” or something like that was said. It’s hard to recall. You see, I have a terrible fear of bridges, because it combines two of my other fears, heights and open water. To say that there is a bridge one has to take to Necon is an insult to bridges. There is an expanse, a thin metal rail that extends long into the horizon which “he who doesn’t believe in directions” kept going back and forth on in his efforts to get from somewhere to somewhere else. Ending with us “fighting the power” with the ironic act of asking the police for directions.

Everyone kept apologizing for this year not being true to the spirit of Necon. Their usual quarters were under re-construction, so we were housed in alternate facilities. Seriously, you don’t have to apologize for me “having” to sleep in air conditioned hotel rooms. I’ll suffer for my craft.
I will point out that they wanted to keep the Negroes safely ensconced by having me and Wrath James White as roommates. I’d like to point out that one got away: I saw Linda Addison running around all weekend free as a bird.

Necon Day Two:

In another bit of superb Necon roommate planning, I had Ron Dickie, Tomo, and Bob Ford in a room on one side of me, and Kelli Dunlap in the room on the other side. This will end well.
I ended up doing a different panel than the one announced. I was switched with Wrath (you notice a pattern here?!?) and ended up on the “killing the genre in ten easy steps” panel, moderated by my arch-nemesis, Nick Kaufmann. All roads come back to loki: as if the panel didn’t have enough bile and bitterness with Kaufmann and Jack Haringa, loki was on hand. I tried to bring the joy that is me, luckily, Weston Ochse put a quick end to that.

For the record, I have no idea why people started calling me Budda.
And Debbie Kuhn had to bear the brunt of my obnoxiousness with no other members of Team Broaddus being there to distract me (I believe the quote was “wow, you really do talk a lot. I really understand why Lauren complains.”)

Necon Day Three:

I. Hate. Teh. Kelli.

The calculation from the Dickie/Tomo/Bob room was “Maurice’s head should be right about here” which preceeded banging against my headboard at some unholy time in the morning.

And now, an aside: Dear Lucien, no I didn’t begin my adventures at the con by announcing “where are my gays?” but i think many of us were left with some very confused feelings afterwards, though I wasn’t even invited to the sexy pillow fight. (Mental Note: Must have sexy pillow fight at Mo*Con IV)

In short, I may have a new favorite convention. You seriously can’t beat old friends hanging out over food and drink for a weekend having great conversations. The only thing to make things better would be to fire the “guitar guy”. They show up at every party, and if you don’t stop them early, they multiply. I’m pretty content to have just Gary Frank.

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The Dark Knight – A Review

“To Job or not to Job”

The Dark Knight managed to do what few sequels fail to do: be better than the first (the brilliant Batman Begins). Like Iron Man, super hero movies are maturing and moving into new territory. Maturing doesn’t necessarily mean darker (as some seem to reflexively think), but rather deeper. All great movies start with a great script, and Christopher Nolan has teamed up with his brother, Jonathan (the team who brought us the classic movie, Momento), to provide a script with a depth and denseness. The drama affects us, comic book fan and non-fan alike, because the special effects don’t trump the performances nor the story. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) is clearly a troubled individual who struggles with his own humanity in the face of the war he wages. Now he becomes haunted by an adversary who wants him to shed his values in order to beat the devil at his own game.

Spider-Man 3 illustrated for us the folly of trying to cram too many origin stories into a movie, especially if knowing isn’t especially germaine to the storyline, character development, or theme. While several masked villains make appearances in The Dark Knight (Scarecrow, Joker, Two Face), we only see a “full” origin of Two Face (Aaron Eckhart). Continuing the pattern of forgetting about the previous series of movies, The Dark Knight corrects the travesty done in Batman Forever. In that, Joel Schumacher portrayed Two Face (I absolved Tommy Lee Jones of blame) as a mere henchmen, as opposed to his position as Batman’s number two nemesis (and, thematically, what Batman could become if he strays from his path). Only now do we get a serious examination of Two Face and in so doing, an examination of Batman, his mission, and his methods.

“In their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t understand.” –Alfred (Michael Caine)

On the other side of the villain coin is anarchy’s clown prince, the Joker. Heath Ledger mesmerizes with his hopefully soon to be Oscar nominated, Jack Nicholson meets Johnny Depp performance as The Joker. The first thing you have to wonder is why anyone would want to be one of the Joker’s minions, after all, your time with him is always subject to random whims (read: being killed). Granted, there is a coercive element to joining his team which doesn’t command exactly loyalty or sacrifice. Also, he draws henchmen much like himself: psychotic, paranoid schizophrenics. However, the Joker is far from commonplace insanity.

“The only way to live in this world is to live without rules.” –Joker

We see a darker Joker than we’ve come to know, a truly frightening vision who sees himself not as a monster, but merely “ahead of the curve”. As Alfred points out, we’re dealing with someone who “can’t be bought, bullied, or negotiated with. They just want to watch the world burn.” A fractal personality, sort of a postmodern insanity, he creates a new persona and history each day. With no name, no alias, to deal with the pain, contradictions, unfairness, and insanity of this world fractured his personality. A super genius, the Joker is simply the embodiment of man’s capability of evil, the monster we’re all capable of being. In fact, that’s his motivation: he wants to expose everyone as being no different than him.

“It wasn’t what I had in mind when I said I wanted to inspire people.” –Bruce Wayne

And yet the Joker is a reaction to Batman. The rise of costumed super villains in a lot of ways is simply a matter of evolution. As good stands up to evil, evil in turn won’t go quietly into the night. With the arrival of Batman in Gotham City, the brand of criminals seem to rise to the challenge. The everyday muggers and mob bosses have to adjust to life among “a better class of criminals”.

The Dark Knight is not a simple meditation on good and evil. It’s a complex tale that reminded me of another story that examined the nature of good and evil, why bad things happen and how we choose to respond to them: the biblical story of Job. In the story of Job, the Satan goes to God and tells him that people only worship Him because He blessed them. So God gives him permission to test the best of us, his servant Job. First his wealth is taken from him, then his family, then his health. In the end, he chooses to keep his faith in God though he does have a few choice questions for God in the end.

Which brings us to The Dark Knight.

“Their morals, their code, is a bad joke.” –Joker

The Dark Knight follows a Batman: Year One meets the classic comic, The Killing Joke, storyline. In it we have a battle for people’s souls. The Joker, much like Satan, has a simple thesis: our morals, what we cling to as laws in our polite society are matters of convenience which goes by the wayside when times get hard. In short, everyone would be like him if they simply had a bad enough day. The Joker hopes to show the schemers—all those who seek control and make plans for their lives—how pathetic their attempts to control the events around them are. He takes the plans of those around him and turns them on themselves. He’s a walking social experiment, an agent of chaos. He continues to devise situations that test the fabric of the morality of Batman, the police, the law, and society in general, humiliating them in the process if he can.

In any social experiment there must be a choice to do right or wrong, a chance for redemption. Without that choice, the experiment is moot. In light of his personal tragedy, his parents having been killed in front of him as a child, Batman chose to devote himself to the pursuit of justice and defending the weak or defenseless. His mission was one that set an example for others who also believed in what he stood for.

“He’s a symbol.” –Brian (Andy Luther)

As solo a hero as Batman seems, he’s hardly as much a loner as we like to believe. Team Batman consists of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), head of Wayne Enterprises and provider of a lot of his technological toys; Harvey Dent, the face of justice in Gotham City; Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), the police commissioner; Alfred Pennyworth, his faithful butler and the prophetic voice who speaks truth into Bruce Wayne’s life; and Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), confidante and his personal hope for love and peace. Despite having many apostles, Jesus had his inner circle, for example, the ones he chose to witness his Transfiguration, and Batman’s circle of Gordon and Dent set the backdrop psychology of why no one wants to give up on Harvey Dent.

They face a crisis of methods. This “last temptation of Batman” was to catch a vision of what he’d have to become to stop men like the Joker, tempted by the idea of changing their ways in order to successfully fight this new band of villain. Theirs were the ways of law and order but the question proffered by the Joker was how far they were willing to go to preserve what’s right. To fight the good fight honorably or become like the Joker, without rules. The Dark Knight was literally the dark night of the soul (or as Alfred calls it, “a lesson in perseverance”) for Team Batman, but the fact that the night is darkest just before the dawn is lived in light of the hope that the dawn is coming.

“He can make the choice than no one else can. The right choice.” –Alfred

Our response to life’s trials is a choice. It is tempting to hold on to the anger and resentment that comes with life’s betrayals, becoming like the bitter monster Harvey Dent does. But part of forgiveness process is us venting our grief, frustration, and anger, only then can we continue with the healing/forgiveness process – letting go before we’re poisoned or driven insane. A Christian response is moving toward reconciliation, a forgiving of our enemy. Grace doesn’t preclude justice being done. Call evil deeds what they are: evil. We must protect the innocent. However, our actions must move toward redemption. And that was the model Batman chose to follow.

Jesus, the Christ, sets an example of revolutionary tactics in the face of madness: love, forgiveness, and sacrifice. He’s the hero we deserve and need. While the Devil may think he won, the Hero does the unexpected. He sacrifices himself for something greater. Guided by his love for Gotham city and Justice; and forgiveness of Harvey Dent, Batman chose to sacrifice himself.

“For now, they’re going to have to make due with you.” –Alfred

Batman is more than a super hero and The Dark Knight is more than a comic book movie. Both transcend their initial conception and show the possibilities of what others of their ilk can be. There simply aren’t enough superlatives for this movie. Intelligent, grown up, sophisticated, with a depth lacking from most movies period, much less super hero ones. Christopher Nolan’s overlapping and multiple storylines create (tragic) characters we come to care about. The performances, the confident sense of direction, the technical production all combine for a truly great cinematic experience, no matter how you may feel about the spandex set.

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