Sunday, April 21, 2013

Progress


I need to speak on something that has been frustrating me. There is a disease that is rotting Christianity from the inside out. Its name is conservatism. Let me be clear, while I am a political liberal, I do not identify with progressive Christianity. I don’t think these narrow labels do much good when talking about God. I’m focusing on conservative Christianity because of its massive hold in America today.  

Don’t get me wrong, progressive Christianity has its own skeletons in the closest, most notably being the undercurrent of thought that Jesus was just a man with some cool ideas about helping the poor. The truth is, Jesus is the Son of God. He wasn’t some pot smoking hipster from first century Palestine. There are numerous claims that Jesus made in the Gospels to being divine, so we really are forced to follow the logic of C.S. Lewis’ trilemma of liar, lunatic, or Lord. If he’s not God, then why call yourself a Christian over anything else?

So, progressive Christianity has its flaws. Yet, there’s never been a “Social Justice Majority,” there has been a “Moral Majority” however. The problem with conservative Christianity is that it doesn’t change at all, which is ironic. Fundamentalist theologians like Albert Mohler say that all of his views are historic church positions. But that’s just false. Presumably, Mohler being a Calvinist Protestant, would recognize that his positions on predestination and sola scriptura, for example, were completely absent from church thought until 1500 years after the death of Christ. The Catholic Church was the only institution around during early Christianity, men like Augustine were devout Catholics.

So, if it follows that progress was made by Martin Luther and his reformation, then how can it be said that doctrine doesn’t change? Protestant denial of historic Christian positions such as Purgatory, necessity of baptism for salvation, acceptance of deuterocanonical books of the Bible, the belief that Christ’s real presence is in the Eucharist, and apostolic succession is a pretty big shift. Now, as a Protestant, I actually disagree with the above stated positions as well, but if the church was wrong once, can’t it be wrong again?   

Now, this is an obvious point, but I feel the need to mention it anyway: The root of the word Protestant means to protest. Well, what do you suppose the Protestants were protesting about? Could it be the Christian church of the day? See, you can’t break away from 1500 years of tradition and then complain when someone else talks about reform. It’s hypocritical.

I believe that we as Christians need to take a hard look at the issues in our world today. We can’t just sweep them under the rug because they would require a rethinking of theology. That’s just cowardly. We need to stop saying the earth is 6000 years old and that humans lived with dinosaurs. We need to stop trying to change someone’s sexuality. We need to stop letting ourselves be used by political parties to go to war and kill another nation’s children. We need to stop judging that some people are just absolutely going to Hell and that there’s no hope for them. Finally, we need to stop being afraid to say that God loves everyone.

Can we please throw away these childish progressive and conservative labels and just try to follow Jesus? 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Christian Again


So, I guess it’s time to call myself a Christian again. I certainly don’t feel any happier than when I wrote that atheistic post. In fact, I feel just as terrible. As is usual for the last five or six years, I don’t feel anything. I just feel a gnawing emptiness. All that’s left is hate and fear. Still, I’d take that over nothing, which is what I usually get. I just don’t care anymore. There used to be a time when I liked doing things, no more. I’m just a shell of my broken dreams.
  
Well, that certainly doesn’t sound very triumphant, huh? I could write that I’ve figured out all the things that don’t make sense in Christianity… but I’d be lying. I don’t understand. I just don’t understand why life is the way it is.

Yet, I do see hope in the Christian narrative. Jesus is a figure of absolute love. I think believing that there’s a God out there who loves everyone so much that he died for them, is something worth holding on to. There has to be something more than just suffering on this mudball of a planet.

Otherwise, I would walk a dark path that I've already been down before. I’d rather not do that, so I’ll believe in Jesus. That’s all I can think of to say. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Top Five Worst Movies (part 2 of 2)

3. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

What a disaster. So, it’s been fifteen years since Return of the Jedi, and you hear the news: Star Wars is coming back. Wow, that’s amazing, you say. George Lucas must have taken years to finely tune an awesome script with wonderful new characters and situations, right? Damn, that didn’t happen, huh? Well, at least the computer effects look nice… oh, and the last fight with Darth Maul was kind of cool… Come on, let’s face facts here, if this didn’t have the Star Wars license on it, no one would watch this train wreck. But since it does, people who saw this movie when they were nine (and haven’t seen it since) say “it’s not that bad.”

Well, watch it again. This sucks. Some of my favorite films are from the original trilogy, so it’s not that I just hate Star Wars. In fact, the third prequel, Revenge of the Sith, I think is a good movie. I’m just being objective. Episode I is awful.

Where to even begin. Alright, let’s start with the plot. This corporation called the Trade Federation is taking over the planet Naboo. What, a business is taking over a planet? Somehow, I find that a little less menacing than the Empire, maybe that’s just me. Anyway, Two Jedis, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi try to negotiate with the Trade Federation but fail, escape to Naboo, and meet a fish man named Jar Jar Binks… Actually, I’m going to stop talking about the plot now… I thought of writing more, but who cares, do you? I don’t. I can’t take this movie seriously.

This movie is a giant pointless misadventure. You see the characters running away from an oversized goldfish in their little submarine, to the characters beseeching the king of the fish men for an audience. There’s also random racing scenes in weird little pod things.

Yeah, there’s a scene where they fight in space. Yeah, there’s eventually a lightsaber fight. But who cares? The narrative is supposed to show Anakin being the chosen one, but he’s just a snot nosed ten year old kid here. The whole battle for Naboo has zero significance for the rest of the prequels. It’s a side story. You could actually start watching from Episode II and not really miss anything.

Then you have the characters in this movie. This has been done before by another critic, but think of Han Solo, how would you describe him? There are dozens of words I would think of to describe the lovable rogue. Now, think of Qui-Gon Jinn’s personality. Drawing a blank? I thought so. Every character in Episode I is a flat, two dimensional cartoon. Anakin is a whiny kid. Qui-Gon is wise. Jar Jar Binks is… wait, I need a moment.

So, let’s discuss Jar Jar Binks. This character is basically an Ewok, only he’s not adorable. He’s everything that is wrong with this movie personified. I suppose Lucas thought that Jar Jar would be comic relief, but his constant presence on screen makes me want to attack my television set. He talks like some blackface caricature from the 1920’s, and serves no point in the movie. He’s tripping over objects, shouting stupid catchphrases, and generally making an ass out of himself. My favorite scene with Jar Jar has to be when he accidentally steps into shit. It just sums up this movie perfectly.

This movie didn’t have to be made. Lucas could have skipped this pointless playground romp and just went straight to Episode II when Anakin wasn’t wetting the bed. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: Lucas needs to stop destroying Star Wars. Just stop, leave it alone. Make a remake of Howard the Duck or something; it can’t be worse than this.   

2. Batman and Robin

Okay, maybe The Happening isn’t the stupidest movie on this list. Oh God, Batman, what have they done to you? When Tim Burton created Batman and Batman Returns, he not only made two great movies, he brought comic book movies back into style. Then Joel Schumacher started making Batman movies. His first attempt, Batman Forever, was nothing in comparison to the Tim Burton films, but it was actually okay. Maybe he just needed to work himself into it, you know? I’m sure the next one will be… no, no, no, kill it with fire!

Batman and Robin looks like a shiny plastic toy designed for a toddler with Attention Deficit Disorder. There are some decent special effects, yeah, but they’re all thrown together on screen. I feel like they’re suffocating me. There’s little rhyme or reason to what they show, all the lighting, for example, is blue and pink. Why? Why those colors? Why not brown and orange? It’s not like the movie could look more arbitrary than it already does.

The movie’s plot (and I use that word very loosely), is that Mr. Freeze has come to Gotham and he’s freezing the city. Yeah, Mr. Freeze is freezing stuff. Awesome. Honestly, Mr. Freeze has always been one of the worst villains in Batman, because he’s not realistic. Tim Burton wisely chose the Joker and Penguin because they are semi-believable. The worst part is that Mr. Freeze, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a parody of himself. Everything, and I mean everything, he says is a pun on ice. “You’re not sending me to the cooler.” “The Iceman cometh.” “It’s time to kick some ice.” I think you get the picture, at least I hope you do, because if I have to type another ice pun I will rip my right arm off and beat myself with it.  

They also wheel in Poison Ivy, and her entire character is basically a giant whore. I can only imagine that Schumacher was yelling at Uma Thurman between cuts, saying “Not slutty enough, Uma!” Her character eventually brings a rift between Batman and Robin. They each think that Poison Ivy loves him, and a ridiculous fight breaks out between the two, which ends with Robin being pushed into a vat of ice cream.

This movie is just stupid. The acting is non-existent, and even the special effects, while acceptable, don’t add anything to the experience. It just felt like the movie was made to sell toys and video games. Also, I hate when people defend this film by saying “Come on, it’s just made for kids man, it’s a cartoon.” What a crappy excuse. There are dozens of imaginative children’s movies I can think of that don’t talk down to kids. Look at the Neverending Story or Dark Crystal, that’s how it’s done. Even Batman: The Animated Series, which actually was a cartoon, shines in storytelling. So, Batman and Robin isn’t good for anyone. The MPAA should rate this B for bad.

Also, thanks Joel Schumacher for all those classy ass and crotch shots of Batman and Robin. That’s good for kids. Jackass.

1. Project X

The previous four movies I reviewed were terrible, completely without any redeeming factors. Still, they were ostensibly about something. Wikipedia lists Project X as a comedy, but it isn’t one. I imagine they listed it as such because every movie has to be about something, right? Drama, action, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, documentary, and comedy. Those are the major ones. Well, it’s accurate to say that Project X has a few lines of dialogue that are supposed to funny, but just because a few jokes are in a film, doesn’t make it a comedy. I remember one of the Jews in Schindler’s List saying “How could it possibly be worse?” in response to his wife saying it could be worse. That plays to the sense of irony, which instills humor. So, is Schindler’s List a comedy then? No, and neither is this movie.

The truth is that Project X doesn’t fit into any genre. Is this because the film is so daring and original that conventional labels just can’t contain it? Instead of answering my own stupid question, I’ll hum the Ninja Turtles theme song.  Project X is the absence of everything. It offers nothing, story included.

Project X shows some white, over-privileged high school brats planning an “epic party.” Thomas Kub, our main character, throws the party at his house while his parents are away. He’s not popular at first, but becomes so due to the “epic party.” Soon enough, teenagers show up, and the party begins. That’s the entire plot, right there.

The whole movie just shows these punks doing irresponsible, childish shit.  They drink till they puke, get high, have sex with each other, and oh, they take some ecstasy. Awesome. They break stuff in Thomas’ house, and eventually the party gets so out of control that they riot in the streets and attack police officers. Then some guy with a flamethrower comes and burns the house down.

What is this movie trying to say? Does it have any point at all? No, this movie is a monument to hedonism, just living to live. It’s sad, because there’s actually one nice girl that Thomas has a friendship with, but instead of trying to grow in their relationship, he screws some random classmate because she’s apparently the hottest girl in high school.

After Thomas’ house is nothing but rubble, everyone at school now thinks he’s cool. Hooray, hooray! Except his college fund is gone, his parents hate him, and he’s actually facing jail time for his actions. But hey, it’s okay, right? The party was a hit! What an awesome night, dude! Forget the fact that this kid’s life is now fucked with a capital F, he had fun.

I would like to point out that the director of Project X is in his mid 30’s while the producer is in his early 40’s. Does this movie still sound cool? It’s the deranged and deviant fantasy of two grown men who wished they partied harder when they were still in high school. It’s pathetic. Grow up. Don’t inspire kids to do this kind of shit, and there are actually news stories of teenagers having “Project X parties” because they thought it looked so sweet in the film. Life isn’t a movie.

Fuck the people who made this movie. In any decent society, no studio would hire such miscreants. Sadly, kids are eating it up. By the way, to all the idiots saying this movie is just an homage to Animal House, please go jump off a bridge. Animal House had good characters, and was set up like a comedy. The true successors to Animal House are Old School and Superbad, not this alligator shit.

Project X reminded me of Night, by Elie Wiesel, a memoir on the Holocaust. Let this quote sink in “Here there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends. Everyone lives and dies for himself alone.” That’s this movie in a nutshell. The brats at this party don’t care about Thomas, they just want to get drunk. They won’t be there when the dust settles. Thomas, even though he’s at a party, is alone. Perhaps Nietzsche was thinking of Project X when he wrote “God is dead.”

Monday, April 1, 2013

Top Five Worst Movies (part 1 of 2)

Bad movies. Everyone’s seen at least one, right? You know the feeling, getting excited in the theater about the new movie you’re going to see. And then, you realize, this movie’s terrible! What a letdown. The money you pissed away on the ticket isn’t the worst part; it’s the understanding that eating other people’s shoes for the last two hours would have been more productive. You just wasted your time.

There are hundreds of bad movies, most movies in fact. Honestly, if the film isn’t bad, then it’s usually just generic. Very rarely will the moviegoer be presented with something original or challenging to his senses. Lest I falsely convey the untruth that this is a modern problem, and that movies today are just a reflection of a culture that has somehow fallen from grace, let me assure you, bad movies have always been with us.

Anyway, let me admit something upfront: there are worse movies on a technical level than the five I’ve chosen. You could look at something like Plan 9 from Outer Space, which is absolutely broken on every level. Still, that movie is so bad, that you actually derive humor from it. Other movies like Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Birdemic, and Troll 2, are all prime candidates as well. Also, those movies I mentioned you knew were going to be bad, there was never a chance to be disappointed.

No, the five movies I’m going to list are unceremonious failures. There isn’t even anything to laugh at, they’re just bad. If I could, I would reach back from the depths of time and drop boulders on the directors of these movies… but I can’t. They exist, and they will always exist. Talk about a bummer.

5. The Happening

Well, while this is only number five, The Happening is definitely the stupidest movie on the list. This film is a motion picture lobotomy. I was deathly afraid of becoming a genuine idiot after I watched this nonsense. So, the premise is… that plants are attacking. Yeah, that’s actually the plot. They try (extraordinarily badly), to make it scientific. They say that somehow all the plants on Earth have triggered a self-defense mechanism and are producing a toxin that makes humans commit suicide… because I guess the plants know that humans are chopping down trees and are angry.

This is stupid. I’m sorry, I really tried to suspend my disbelief, but this is stupid. How do all the plants everywhere know how to band together and produce this poison? How are only humans targeted? Those plants are really selective, quite brilliant tacticians I’d say. No, I’m not a scientist, but this could never happen, end of story.

And then, we have the actual scenes of the movie. It should also be noted that Mark Wahlberg is the main character in this movie. I could go into a rant of how he’s the second worst actor in Hollywood right now (Shia Labeouf wins that prize), but I’ll save you the trouble. Just know, that if you like him, you don’t actually like him, you just don’t know any better.

There are two scenes that exemplify this movie’s stupidity. The first is where the main characters hear other people shooting themselves in the distance. Mark Wahlberg’s character knows that the plants are at work, and tells everyone to run away from the wind. Yes, they are literally running away from the wind. I don’t… I don’t even know what to say. Is this supposed to be funny? I don’t think so, the movie really tries to take itself seriously. It’s just stupid.

The worst scene, however, is the houseplant scene. Mark Wahlberg’s character sees a plant in the house he’s hiding in, and actually tries to have a dialogue with it. He’s talking to a plant. If you think this is a good scene, then you absolutely belong in a mental asylum.

So, in summation, this movie is stupid. Stay away from it, unless you too, are stupid. 

4. Super Mario Bros.

This is the only movie on the list that actually looks bad on a cinematographic level. As soon as the film reel plays, you know that you’re looking at garbage. You won’t find a bigger Mario fan than me. Super Mario Bros. 3 on the old NES is my favorite video game of all time. So, when I first saw this travesty in elementary school, I just didn’t get it. Yeah, it has Mario and Luigi in it, but what on God’s green Earth did it have to do with the Mushroom Kingdom? As was popular in the 90’s, the directors tried to make it “extreme.”

The setting was first Manhattan, and then some hellish dystopia called Dinohattan. Ha, ha, ha… Oh boy, you see what they did there? Nice pun guys. Dinohattan in particular was freakish to look at. It’s a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The movie just looks dark. One of the characters was turned into a fungus and he looks disgusting. He’s covered in slime, and you wonder if all the cast just took turns blowing their noses on him.

There are also weird creatures that bear the classic goomba name, but actually look like monsters. They’re giants, but have these tiny heads with razor sharp teeth. Honestly, they look like they came out of someone’s acid trip. Then you have Yoshi, everyone’s favorite cute dinosaur. Here he just looks like a raptor from Jurassic Park. Finally, you have King Koopa… who just looks like Dennis Hopper.

The worst scene in this movie is where Mario motorboats the chest of some big black woman named Bertha. If you think that sounds vomit-inducing, then you’d be right. Mario, the adorable little Nintendo character that is beloved by children and adults alike, is diving into a woman’s tits. What were they thinking?

This entire movie is just a dark, subterranean nightmare. It feels wrong. Why didn’t they just model Mario after his games? Why not show Mario and Luigi having whimsical adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom? You know, riding Yoshi, collecting coins, and exploring new worlds? That would have been delightful. Instead, we basically got Mario in the hood.