Friday, November 23, 2012

It's the Friday video post! Retro Smirnoff Ad

As a slacker student, I spent many hours watching films at the local fleapit (before multiplexes were everywhere).

During my entire time at Uni, they played this ad before the start of the film.

Every. Single. Time.

Seriously – over a period of three years! (I don't know why, but I guess it's because it cost so much to make).

I used to completely and utterly loathe this ad. It drove me crazy everytime they showed it ... but now I can watch it with a renewed appreciation for the technical brilliance. Remember – this came out over five years before the Matrix.

That's pretty impressive.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What you don't hear about the Isreal / Palestine conflict

Israel and Hamas are currently blowing the crap out of each other.

I'm no expert on Middle East politics, but when you know someone who has lived in the region for some time you see a different perspective from what is spoon fed to us in the media.

Isreal is often portrayed (certainly by the British media) as the villain, while Palestine the helpless underdog.

Interestingly – and rather predictably – the truth is far more complex.

Here's an excerpt from Joel C Rosenberg's blog:

"Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terror organizations — backed by Iran — are firing rockets, missiles and mortars at innocent civilians in Israel, along the southern border. Each act is a war crime. The Iranian-backed terrorists are also firing from behind innocent civilians in Gaza, often from hospitals, mosques and schools. Thus, each act is actually two war crimes. In just the past several hours, the terrorists have fired more 50 times at Israel. That’s more than 100 war crimes. Since Saturday, they have fired at Israeli civilians more than 200 times. That’s more than 400 war crimes.  Yet the world is paying very little attention and doing little to stop the terrorist attacks. Israel, therefore, is moving swiftly to defend herself." 

Hearing from my friend, I understand that civilians are regularly being targeted in the South of Israel from Gaza, but it's only recently that things have gotten worse. This is why Israel decided to kill Ahmed Jabari (the top military commander of Hamas) in an attempt to put a stop to the continual attacks (the media, however, hasn't made this clear).

Whether this will put an end to things is anyone's guess. 

Essentially, Hamas aims rockets at Israeli civilians from Gaza, while Israel tries to avoid killing innocent civilians (you can see a video here explaining what they do), which is difficult when Hamas uses non-military locations to attack. Again, the media doesn't make this clear.

My humble view is that this whole mess is driven by politics and religious fundamentalism. Ordinary people on both sides are tired of the endless killing and destruction. They don't want to kill each other, they just want to go to work and get on with their lives. Those in power, however, are oblivious to this.

One thing worth mentioning is that Israel is surrounded by nations who either want it completely destroyed or at the very least wouldn't mind if it was wiped from the face of the earth. Hitler tried this, as have many others before in history. So far, the Jews have miraculously survived – but that doesn't make things easier. You can't blame them for feeling hemmed in and under attack (not just from Gaza, but Iran and Egypt as well).

Ezekiel 38 talks about a vast army coming to destroy Israel and it make me wonder whether this is the beginning of something terrible unravelling before our very eyes...only time will tell.

Watch this space!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Movie Review - Tyrannosaur

The much-lauded directorial debut from Paddy Considine (best known to me as the journo who gets killed by the CIA in The Bourne Ultimatum), this low-budget British feature has received critical acclaim for its portrayal of two very different individuals who form an unconventional friendship in the midst of violence and loss.

Firstly, let me just say that the direction and acting is second-to-none. Olivia Colman (more familiar as a comedy actress in the likes of Peep Show and Rev.) and Peter Mullan (War Horse) give mesmerising performances. The setting is dark and depressing, with brief moments of happiness that lift things briefly out of the gloom.

When we are introduced to the two main characters, we assume they are poles apart – one is a violent, down-and-out drunk while the other is a middle-class Christian working in a charity shop. We soon learn, however, that they have a lot more in common than one would think.

While I accept this is a good film on artistic merit, ultimately I felt it could be a very different and more rewarding film than it was.  

Personally, all of my problems with this film hinge on Hannah, who turns out to be very superficial in her faith. The only things that seem to identify her as a Christian are the fact that she prays a couple of times and works in a charity shop. Hardly enough for a strong conviction. This is the big problem with cinema and TV – most portrayals of Christians are unfair stereotypes which instantly loses my respect for the team making the film.

We soon learn that Hannah's life is far from perfect (not that a Christian's life should be perfect – they never are, of course), and while faced with difficult and horrific circumstances not once do we see her cry out to God for any kind of intervention.

Had her faith been more real, I could see how her relationship with Mullan's Joseph might have been a source of real change for both of them. I wouldn't expect it to be an easy ride. There would be ups and downs – conflict – but ultimately they would have been able to start again and look to the future. I just think the story stayed too much in the dark and wouldn't allow itself to wander into the light enough.

This film claims that eventually the characters achieve redemption, but I'm not convinced. Instead, the conclusion feels ambiguous with just a tiny glimpse of hope.

I'm not against dark films per se, but I feel that it's important for characters to reach that personal point of revelation, where they learn the lessons from the journey they've been on and ultimately become better people. That's the essence of most successful stories. Hopefully, Tyrannosaur isn't one of those films that begins a new trend of nihilistic stories devoid of hope.

Now that really would be depressing.

Verdict: 7 out of 10

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dedication – that's what you need

The other week, we had Sprog #2's dedication at church. Because of sleepless nights and contracting some weird virus thing, it has taken me a while to get round to writing this.

Edward was born back in April, and his arrival was a long time coming (not that he was in the womb for three years or anything weird like that). After several failed attempts at fertility treatment, it finally worked and Ed was the outcome. His dedication was meant to be a way of publicly thanking God for this little miracle and take the opportunity to pray for him within the church community.

Dedications are the latest thing in evangelical / modern churches. The idea stems from the notion that traditional christenings (or infant baptism) are seen as being a bit out of touch, both theologically and logically. As I understand it, Infant baptism was conceived as a way to save the soul of the poor little critter before they got infected with the sin that exists in the big bad world. Save the person before they get a chance to go off the rails, so to speak.

Of course, this doesn't really work. Baptising babies doesn't stop them from doing 'bad' things – anyone with any common sense can see that. Also, there doesn't appear to be anything in the Bible that tells us to do this (or that being baptised at such an early point in life guarantees eternal life). All the baptisms that take place in the New Testament involve adults who are making a decision for themselves. Babies find it difficult enough to not poo their pants let alone choose to follow their Lord and Saviour.

Having said this, I've been to plenty of Christenings in Anglican churches, and never had the impression that the service is about 'saving the baby's soul'. Rather, they are about thanksgiving and committing the baby to God. I think infant baptism is more of a Catholic thing, which I don't know much about...

Ironically, we go to a Baptist church and you'd think with a name like that, they'd be baptising people all over the place, whatever their age! But no, our denomination is very clear about Christenings – it's not something we partake in!

And so, for us, the dedication was not about choosing Ed's faith for him. That will be his decision and his decision alone when the time comes. Wifey and I would love for him to have a real and active Christian faith, but if he chooses to become an Atheist or a Muslim that's up to him. We will still love him whatever his beliefs. No, the dedication was – as explained above – an opportunity for public thanksgiving and acknowledgment of God's role in our lives.

It was great to have friends and family join us for the day. It was also great to eat lots of cake in Ed's honour.

I'm sure, being a chip off the old block, when he's older he'll appreciate that!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Christian Movie Review - Dredd 3D

I was amused to read a recent review of Dredd 3D by 'Movieguide - the family guide to movies and entertainment'. Here's how it finishes off:

"DREDD exists only to exploit and demean all who are involved in it. Everyone associated with this movie, both behind and in front of the cameras, should be deeply ashamed. DREDD is an abhorrent movie on every artistic and moral level."


Naturally, it provoked widespread derision from fans, who didn't seem bothered by the reviewer's damning assessment of the comic book adaptation. In fact, they were almost proud to be associated with a "vile, inhumane and horrifically violent movie ... with abundant foul language."

As a Christian myself, I felt slightly awkward reading the review. Firstly, because my fellow brother (or sister) reviewer succeeded in portraying the Christian faith as ultra-square and tragically un-cool. Secondly, because I actually liked the film I felt like I was being a bad Christian.

In response to the first point, I can't argue really. The Christian faith is not meant to be 'cool' or 'trendy'. In spite of people like Rob Bell doing their best to wear the right clothes and proffer culture-friendly-yet-profound sound-bites, Christianity isn't cool. If anything, it's messy. All sorts of people, regardless of how ugly they look or how broken and hurt they are inside, are allowed to take part. It isn't, or at least shouldn't, be about saying the right thing and wearing the right clothes. We're a motley bunch, some of whom warble hymns out of tune in dusty old pews while others prance around 'in the spirit' to Coldplay-esque worship music at some trendy venue serving slightly pretentious real coffee (bless 'em!). Some believers are always going to react to things in a way that some people will find amusing, offensive or both – there's not much I can do about it, really.

I felt like a bad Christian because I thought maybe I shouldn't have watched a movie like Dredd. It's got lots of violence and swearing in it, not the kind of things you normally associate with Christian values. It's also seriously dark and heavily pessimistic – again, fairly un-Christian qualities.

It brought to mind a well-known piece of scripture:

"... whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4v8 NIV)

So does it mean I'm not allowed to watch anything mildly racy? Well, personally I think the verse from Phillipians is encouraging believers to focus on the good and wholesome stuff most of the time, not necessarily all of the time. I don't think Christians are meant to bury their heads in the sand and think about butterflies and candyfloss all day.

Dredd dispatches perps who gave the movie a negative review
The world can be a horrible and nasty place, and Christians can only offer hope if they are aware of this and understand what is going on in the world. The media is a mirror to society so I think that sometimes it's necessary to take a look once in a while so as to not lose touch.

Saying that, I wouldn't encourage fellow believers to deliberately watch stuff they're uncomfortable with. Some people can stomach some things more than others. Clearly, there are certain kinds of 'entertainment' that no Christian can really justify viewing – pornography or slasher horrors, for example – because there is nothing redemptive or insightful to take away from them.

Dredd, however, is one example of a film which isn't overly gratuitous or indulgent in the darker aspects of its narrative and one can easily draw something useful out of it. Like my good friend Jon did in his recent post. I wouldn't suggest all Christians go watch it because it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but if any do wish to go see it I wouldn't judge them for doing so (Heh! See what I did there?).

The other thing that occurred to me was why oh why did someone even bother to review Dredd for Christians?

I mean, it's R-rated. If you read the description, it's clearly full of violence and profanity. No self-respecting Bible-basher would even think of going to see it anyway.

I can kind of understand why the reviewers detail the content of each film the way they do – so at least anyone going to see it is aware of what they are going to end up watching – but to judge the filmmakers for including such content seems baffling to me. After all, the Bible contains its fare share of rape, murder, incest and adultery (amongst other things). But, as I'm sure is true of Pete Travis (Dredd's Director) and his colleagues, the authors of the Bible's 66 books aren't necessarily condoning such behaviour. They're just representing facets of human brokenness and pain (a staple element of most good stories).

Needless to say, I'll be getting my copy of Dredd when it comes out on DVD in January. I won't be watching it guiltily, but if any of my Christian buddies want to watch it with me, they're more than welcome.

Friday, November 2, 2012

It's the Friday video post! 'True Skin'

After a bit of a hiatus, here's my latest Friday video post!

A nice slice of indie sci-fi, full of glorious neon CGI, True Skin gives a glimpse of what Blade Runner might be if it was made today....