Archive for May, 2009

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“I saw a man, not a machine.”

May 27, 2009

Terminator: Salvation I prefer the Matrix interpretation of the man vs. machine concept, but that’s mostly for its philosophical and theological aspects. Terminator, however, is an entirely different model (see what I did there?).  Unlike its predecessor, this Terminator film wasn’t a complete waste of time.

First of all, let me apologize to all the die-hard Terminator fans out there. I’m not an expert on the Terminator timeline, and quite frankly I think it’s all rather convoluted anyways.  But…in my opinion, one of the central themes of the Terminator franchise has always been: can one really change the future? If you go back to the original film, you have the T-800 attempting to kill Sarah Connor in an attempt to prevent John Connor from being born.  In T2, the machines have sent the latest model, the T-1000 back to kill John.  Obviously, the machines fail again and SkyNet is supposedly stopped.  Then, twelve years later, T3 was released.  I’ll be honest here, I thought that film was so terrible I can’t even remember much of it.  The only useful thing it contributed to the franchise was the introduction of Kate Brewster, who would eventually become the wife of John Connor.  Oh, and that song that Gavin Rossdale did with Blue Man Group…

Alright, so now here we are with the release of Terminator: Salvation.  This installment is the first in the series to actually take place in the future.  And obviously, despite the best efforts of John and Sarah Connor in the previous films, SkyNet has still declared war on humanity.  Salvationtakes place before the T-800’s are introduced, just as the Resistance is planning a strike against SkyNet that would end the war once and for all.

I don’t really want to write about the plot, but I will say that I thought it was well-written (certainly an improvement over T3).  The simple fact that it takes place in the future makes it a different type of film than the others.  We see more of the actual war taking place, which is a breath of fresh air for the franchise, instead of just the Connors being on the run from the latest model of Terminator, though Connor (Christian Bale) is still a primary target, as is his father Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin).

The underlying theme I got out of this film was hope.  Hope for humanity’s ultimate survival against a superior opponent.  This very hope is personified in John Connor and the Resistance’s willingness to disobey orders and follow him as he attempts to rescue Kyle Reese from SkyNet (which one could even go so far as to argue is a selfish goal).  His very name carries enough weight to persuade members of the Resistance to ignore what General Ashdown (Michael Ironside) has ordered them to do long enough for him to accomplish his goal.  Whether or not his goal will ultimately save humanity from the machines still remains to be seen, but it illustrates an important lesson in hope regardless.

The film also raises an important question: What is it that makes us human?  This concept is illustrated with the character of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) who we see at the beginning of the film as a man on death row in the year 2003.  He is convinced to donate his body to Cyberdine for the sake of science and he is promised he will live again to get a second chance.  He struggles throughout the film with whether or not he is a man or a machine and which side he really belongs to.  What it really comes down to is whether or not it is our physical shell that makes us human or whether not it is our heart and soul.   

Overall, this film puts a fresh spin on a 25-year-old franchise while throwing in enough to keep old fans happy and it features a decent storyline and some great special effects to boot.  It’s entertaining and worth the $8 or so to catch it in a theater.

But don’t take my word for it, I recommend giving it a watch and making up your own mind.

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My “Rosetta Stone”

May 8, 2009

In my last post, I mentioned Gareth Higgins’s book How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films.  In this book, he brings up the concept of what he calls his “Rosetta Stone.”  For those of you that don’t know…the Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian artifact which enabled scholars to translate hieroglyphics. But, for our purposes, the term is applied a bit differently.

Higgins refers to his “Rosetta Stone” as being more or less a code of conduct for watching films.  Items on his list range from never reading a review before going to see a film to always going with a couple of friends to never eating popcorn while watching a film.  Now, some of these may seem a bit silly at first, but he actually goes on to explain their logic.  And I have to say, I agree with most of them.

Back when I was “moderating” the small group at my old church, we spent one of the first meetings coming up with our own version of Higgins’s “Rosetta Stone.”  I still use this concept most of the time when watching films.  I say most of the time because I only follow it to the letter when I am alone, else my friends might just think I’m crazy.  But in all seriousness, it’s hard to apply the concept when seeing a film with a friend who isn’t as into looking at film in the same way as you are.  To some people seeing a movie is just a way to blow off steam and enjoy some mindless entertainment for a couple of hours, to others it’s a deeper experience.  For me, it’s usually an experience, although I do indulge in a guilty pleasure from time to time.

So, let’s get to the meat of this post.  My “Rosetta Stone.”  It’s actually pretty simple, and I’ll explain my reasoning as well.

1) Always go with friends whenever possible. – I love spending time with my friends. And I love having someone to discuss films with. I use the term “whenever possible” because I’ve accepted the fact that most people just don’t have the time or the desire to go watch a movie as much as I do anymore.

2) Preferrably, give the film and it’s implications some time to sink in before talking about it. – This is self-explanatory. Allow some time to think about what you’ve just seen before getting into a discussion about it.  Everyone needs a few minutes to gather their thoughts.

3) Don’t drink during a movie. – Yeah, this is a personal preference. It will increase the chances of having to get up during the film and that’s not something I like to do, so I choose not to have anything to drink.  Higgins said he doesn’t eat popcorn, and neither do I usually, but that’s just because I’m not crazy about popcorn. I will, however, sometimes grab something to eat while there, but not often. If I do, I’ll try to make sure it’s not loud candy. That’s just annoying to everyone around you.

4) Always watch the credits. – This may sound strange or a bit OCD to you. But as someone who edits video, I understand the fact that it took someone time to put all that together and that makes it as much a part of the film as the rest of it. And let’s face it, we live in a day and age where post-credit bonus scenes are becoming more and more common.  I don’t like to miss things.

And that’s pretty much it, to be perfectly honest. They’re simple and straight to the point.  They may seem a bit odd, but that’s just me.  Maybe you have a few quirks of your own that would fall into this category.  I’d personally love to hear them.

Until next time…

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“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” Part II

May 5, 2009

And so here we are again, continuing the story of my background with film and how it has played an important role in my life.  In my last entry, I promised I would get into the details of my later college and post-college years.  And so, here we go…

In the fall of 2002 I transferred to a small Southern Baptist college in Kentucky to finish up my final two years.  At the time it was known as Cumberland College, though today it is known as the University of the Cumberlands.  My final year there, I had most of my business classes wrapped up so I began to focus more on the communications classes that were needed for my minor.   Among those were Dr. Semmel’s History of Film I and II and Animation History.

Those three classes were probably my favorite three classes in my entire five years of college.  The first semester of film history covered everything from the beginning of film up until about 1950. I spent most of the semester researching and working on a profile of Humphrey Bogart.  The second semester covered everything from about 1950 up until the present day (which back then was early 2004).  I did more research and completed a director profile on George Lucas as well as a genre study on mobster-films which took a look at the original Scarface and The Godfather.  Animation history was pretty much the same type of class and I did my research on the history of Japanese anime and its introduction to mainstream American audiences.  That last semester was pretty hectic with lots of research going on at once. I’d frequently have to take a lower grade on one paper just because I was unable to keep pace with both classes at once (I’m easily distracted).

I graduated after that semester was over and I was promoted to a shift manager position at Blockbuster where I had been working since the previous summer.  Blockbuster employees get five free rentals per week, so between June of 2003 and February of 2005 when I finally left that job behind, I did a lot of movie watching. Not just rentals, either. With no schoolwork to occupy my time, I was at the theater once or twice a week. Whenever I could get someone to go with me.  I had a pretty good group of friends who liked to go back then. And if they wouldn’t go, my dad was always up for it.  Unfortunately, he passed away at the end of 2004 and after I moved to Knoxville in August 2005, most of my friends that I’d usually go watch movies with no longer came to Knoxville as much. For the most part, I was on my own when it came to film.  Going alone really wouldn’t bother me that much; catching a late movie by myself was always a sort of reflection time for me in many respects. But over time, it began to wear me down and I found myself less motivated to get out and go unless I was meeting friends.How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films

At some point in 2004, I discovered a very interesting book titled How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films by Gareth Higgins.  During my final years in college, I developed an interest in religion and how it relates to film, so this book caught my attention. Within this book is a number of film analyzations talking about issues relating to Christianity that can be found within films that one wouldn’t otherwise think to look for them.  It really opened up my eyes to the subject and I began to look at movies differently when I watched them.  There was one quote in the book where something was said about movie theaters being similar to modern-day cathedrals (I can’t find it in the book, and I can’t remember if Higgins said it or if it was in the foreword written by Tony Campolo), and that statement really struck a chord with me.  At the time I had probably been going to the theater more than I had church, and in a lot of ways it made sense to me.  Before long, I was buying everyone I knew who loved movies a copy of this book.

In October of 2005, I started up a small group based on this book at Cumberland Hope Community Church.  We met at my pastor’s house every other week and we’d watch a movie and discuss it from a spiritual standpoint. There were some movies that we would just have nothing to say about, and there were other movies where we’d spend more than two hours in discussion.  But, it was a small town church and over time interest began to wane.  One week in May 2006, it was just my pastor and I and the topic was “controversy.”  So for that meeting, we had made plans to go watch The Da Vinci Code, as it had just been released in theaters.  We watched it, we discussed it, and that was that. That was the final meeting for that class.

Now here we are, present day, and I still don’t get out to watch movies as much as I used to.  I think more than anything I just want people to go with me.  Sometimes I feel as though life’s moved on without me and people just have better things to do than hang out with me discussing film and philosophy.  I’d love to start up a class here in Knoxville like the one I used to host years ago, but the opportunity just hasn’t presented itself.  For now I’m planning to make an attempt to get back into the habit of going to catch a movie at least once a week. It’d be great to have company, but if not…then so be it.

The purpose of this blog will be a review blog of sorts.  I plan to go catch a movie, and write my own analysis of it. Like the class I used to host, maybe it’ll be from a spiritual standpoint, maybe it’ll just be a general review.  Either way, this will contain my thoughts and nothing more.

As I mentioned, the last film we watched in my small group was The Da Vinci Code.  So, I think it will be strangely fitting to do Angels & Demons for my first review.  I am currently making an attempt to read the book before the film is released…which I really should get back to right now.

Unless something else comes to mind…see you in a few weeks…