Month: November 2012

RACCOONS IN THE NEWS: Raccoon Reading Rainbow

The illustrious Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, MA opened up eight years ago and has apparently been plagued by various woodland animals.  In particular, a raccoon spotted in the area–the image of which inspired a Twitter feed–have been a nuisance but also embraced by the employees there because, darnit, they’re cute!  There’s even an office decorated with raccoon toys, which makes it the awesomest library office in the world.

The Revelatory Experience in Cinema

Yesterday I saw Life of Pi. The critics have, of course, lavished their praise on the film, an adaptation of critically acclaimed novel. Directed by Ang Lee, and produced with the latest in computer special effects, it is certainly a pretty film.  And why shouldn’t it be?  Film is a visual medium, so one that fails to capitalize on the possibilities presented (within its budget) is an ill-conceived one.   But it’s not just the strength of the images that has critics enthralled, it’s the power of the story presented as well.  It results in the usual array of words floating across the screen overlayed with clips from the movie during commercials: dazzling, stunning, and beautiful, just to name a few.  One that I’ve seen showing up more than once was “spiritual” and even “revelatory” once or twice.
Apparently those last two words aren’t just typical critical bluster; the audience seems to believe it as well.  For instance, a critic on Slate happened to not give a glowing review of the movie and was met with some derisive commentary from readers.  Mostly along the lines of how the spirituality of the film clearly went over the reviewer’s head.  You know, the way certain music fans think they’re profound intellectuals because they caught some obscure reference in a lyric.

But I have a problem with the idea of a movie being particularly revelatory.  That word has a certain gravitas to it.  You don’t use it unless it involves something downright life altering.  Movies can be a lot of things and evoke many emotions but how easily manipulated are you if you find a film revelatory?  And if you are that easily controlled by a movie, doesn’t that make the experience rather meaningless?

An anecdote: at my first job, I had to endure a co-worker coming into work one Monday all depressed because he had seen Passion of the Christ over the weekend.  He said he’d really been moved by witnessing Jesus’ sacrifice for us and it really made him think about things.  Imagine that, a religious conversion at matinee prices! Christian Propaganda never worked so well! And such profundity from the guy who called me a faggot for seeing the Return of the King just a few months earlier. This was when I first realized that the sort of person for whom a movie can be a life altering experience is probably an attention whore or maybe just an idiot.  Not that this was a life altering experience; he never mentioned Jesus or mentioned religion again in the time that I knew him.

Even then, what spirituality is there to be found in movies besides what the audience brings to it in the first place?  I remember reading about how people cheered during screenings of the Horton Hears a Who movie several years ago at the line “a person is a person, no matter how small” because they felt the line was an explicit endorsement of the pro life movement.  Sure, the movie created a rallying point for their cause, but that had far more to do with them projecting their own views on it than anything the film provided.  Can something be revelatory if you’re just using it to reflect your own beliefs back at you?

Life of Pi did no less than “make you believe in God” according to its own story.  So the question would then be; did it convert a non-believer (which I supposed would be revelatory) or simply re-affirm the believers’ beliefs?  Will my former coworker show up to his job on Monday all depressed because he’s not a tiger?

RACCOONS IN THE NEWS: Happy Birthday, Ranger Rick!

The National Wildlife Federation‘s mascot, Ranger Rick, star of their long-running magazine targeted at children, turned 50 this week! To celebrate, the NWF is rolling out a new magazine, Ranger Rick, Jr., directed at really little kids.  In addition, Ricky (the previously mentioned Junior) is breaking out into new media, with an exciting storbook iPad app, Ranger Rick Jr. Appventures! There are so few raccoon mascots, and it’s good to see that which ones exist get to stick around for a while.

Christian Movies are as Dumb as Hollywood Movies

God Couldn’t Create Eyes so Blue … Must be the Devil’s Work!

I enjoy watching Christian movies.  I’m not a religious person by any means, but I appreciate them for the flagrant propaganda they often are.  They’re usually the worst kind, too: nakedly, tactlessly touting an agenda.  I imagine there are other kinds of Christian films; those that are simply there to celebrate Christianity or illustrate the application of its tenets to daily life.  However those aren’t the ones I enjoy watching.  I’m more a fan of the “convert the masses” kinds of movies which often take the form of apocalyptic stories (e.g. Left Behind, Six: The Mark Unleashed, and of course the Apocalypse series.)  These work on the level of “scare the non-believers to our side by promising them hell if they don’t.”  Others are a little more subtle, but equally awful.

I recently saw The Genesis Code on Netflix.  I was hoping for a prequel to the apocalyptic Christian film starring Casper van Dien, The Omega Code.  Instead, what I got was a movie that tried to combine science and religion into one hot mess of nonsense!

First, the summarization:

  1. Generically Hot Redhead Chick (GHRC) is a college student reporter or something interviewing generically Hot Athletic Dude (HAD) about his athleticism or something.  Typical snarking ensues to create the “will they or won’t they” romantic tension between the two.  One of the major sources of friction?  She’s a believer and he isn’t (because religion isn’t scientific, especially the whole Book of Genesis thing)!  Also, athletic dude has a dark secret!
  2.  It turns out that GHRC has a rather twisted home life.  Her father is a preacher and her brother is a scientist!  More so, he’s the douchiest scientist the world has ever seen.  Kind of a hipster Bill Nye that you want to punch in the face.  
  3. Also, GHRC likes to make a nuisance of herself in classes by bringing up things like the intelligent design during biology class and getting pissy when the teacher dismisses the notion (but, of course, not after the film establishes that current scientific understanding does not answer all questions.)  She also gets into a heated exchange with a career counselor, played by Catherine Hicks, who represents “the establishment.”  The counselor proceeds to lambast GHRC’s religiousness, throwing out terms like “moral relativism,” “new world order,” and “cultural elite” all while some foreboding music plays in the background.
  4. We’ve learned that HAD’s mother is in a coma and that at some point he said something mean to her! Also, his evil grandparents (his mother’s parents, the father played by Ernest Borgnine?!) want to enact her living will to end her life support.  The son is totally opposed to this because he knows his mother would be opposed to it … despite the fact that she has a living will.
  5. At some point along the way, through the convenience of seemingly irrelevant conversations and flashbacks, GHRC has had a stroke of genius and figured out a way that the Book of Genesis and science could be compatible after all! She sets her super wacky scientist brother to working out all the details, which are presented during a thirty minute sequence in the middle of the movie that would be considered a pacing brick wall.  Although it’s possible the rest of the movie is there solely for the purpose to give this portion context. After all, it’s the focal point of the movie’s extended trailer.
  6. Some random conversations.  HAD finds his faith.  His mother miraculously recovers.  At some point a black guy (the only black person in the movie) sang a song … twice!
Here are the problems with this movie:
  • It doesn’t know who its audience is.  The titular Genesis Code and its presentation appears to be there for the express purpose of winning over the non-believers.  However any chances that had of convincing someone will be squashed by the ham-fisted presentation of non-believers as some dangerous cabal (the scene with Catherine Hicks, especially) of jargon spewing monsters. You don’t win someone over with cartoonish depictions of them.  So maybe it wasn’t meant to be seen by atheists at all; maybe it’s there to preach to the converted by confirming their fears of a “new world order” and “culture elite” while giving them a new weapon to attack their (lack of) beliefs, the Genesis Code. 
  • The Genesis Code, as a tool to attack non believers, is woefully under powered. Like a lot of nonsense it fails to stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.  Its use of science is poor; it uses the wrong age of the universe to start off its calculations, it gets the timeline of more specific events (such as the creation of the Milky Way Galaxy) incorrect, and it gets the timeline of evolution incorrect (confusing the existence of ocean-bound single cell organisms with fully-formed plant and animal life.)  At the same time it also misrepresents the bible by misquoting the verses of the Book of Genesis, omitting information that would flatly contradict the Genesis Code or presenting it incorrectly (interpreting the Hebrew word for water as “water” in one place and “universe” in another for no reason other than to make things sound more prophetic.)
So where does that leave everything?  In pretty bad shape, really.  This is a movie that does a bad job at anything it set out to do.  It won’t win over the non-believers, it paints believers in a pretty bad light, and it doesn’t give the believers a new weapon with which to fight the scientists.  And make no mistake, this movie was made to go to war!  Such an intent is made apparent when, at the end of the presentation of the Genesis Code, GHRC’s brother says that “science has now proven what religious leaders have been unable to for thousands of years” to which GHRC responds “science has just caught up with the truth of the Bible.”  It wouldn’t have settled for trying to bridge a gap between science and faith, it wanted to make science into faith’s bitch.
Additional Material
  • The Genesis Code @ Cognitive Discopants (A series of several blog posts that deconstruct the inconsistencies presented by the Genesis Code)
  • Time Dilation @ Physics Forum
  • Genesis Code Review @ Creation Ministries (Even they don’t like this movie!)

You got your drama in my superheroes!

I recently subjected myself to the unaired pilot for the Justice League of America TV series. It was of course rather terrible, however one thing that struck me about it was how much it foretold future trends in the media concerning superheroes.  You see the emphasis of the program wasn’t the superheroing of the characters but on how they related to each other as friends and their personal lives besides being superheroes.  Sound familiar?  It should, because it’s what a lot of writers/directors have done when they wanted to completely blow our minds with their adaptations of superheroes.  From Smallville’s “no tights/no flights” rule to the upcoming Man of Steel, which has a trailer featuring such typical Superman behavior such as fishing! and hitch-hiking! and the recent Christopher Nolan Batman movies which emphasized the psychology of Batman (but still worked in a fair amount of gadgets and punching.)  Heck, the three most recent James Bond movies have taken away the gadgets and focused a lot more on the character’s interpersonal issues (even going so far as explain his origin.)  So everybody wants to take away the action and heroics of superheroes in exchange for more drama.  Because, you know, there are so few dramas that come out each year that we need to convert the non-dramas to dramas.

Well why the hell doesn’t that work in reverse?  Where are the directors or writers who think that simply doing a drama is just so gauche?  Why don’t they want to defy our expectations by having Anna Karenina suddenly change her mind about the suicide and punch the friggin’ train out of the way?  Or maybe the Great Gatsby should be about The Great Gatsby, a crime-fighting superhero of the 1920’s?  How about a biography on Lincoln that involves vampires … ? Oh, right.

Has anybody done Romeo & Juliet with superheroes and supervillains?