Tag Archives: Religion

“PROMETHEUS” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus is in magnificent design, a complex and fascinating arrangement of ideas that qualify it more as science-philosophy than it does as science-fiction. Where do we come from? Where are going from here? What exists among the stars, if anything exists at all? These are questions all of us have asked ourselves at one point or another, no matter what culture, faith, or ethnicity you belong to. So too does Prometheus expand upon these questions, and even though it doesn’t provide many answers, it does explore the possibilities in endless detail.

Taking place in the future of 2089, archeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a set of strange cave drawings all around the world, all resembling the same image: natives, human beings, mankind, all bowing and worshiping towering humanoid beings who loom over them. These beings are represented as a higher authority to the humans, possibly representing themselves as mankind’s creators. As they tower over the humans, they all point to the same thing in the exact same direction: a quadrant in the sky, deeply immersed in space, signifying where they came from. Their home.

Fast forward to 2093. Shaw and Holloway, now part of a crew led by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), travel to a strange planet known as LV-223, where Shaw believes they will meet their creators and discover the origins of the human race. What they find instead could very well mean the extinction of mankind.

It’s difficult to review a film like Prometheus because the plot is so embedded in its mythology and premise that you threaten to review ideas instead of the film itself. Originally conceived as a prequel to Alien, Prometheus has since then stretched its roots out to embrace wider, more ambitious ideas, elaborating on themes such as creationism, mortality, Godhood, human nature, and spiritual identity. What started as a story relating to science-fiction horror has since then branched out into a quest for humanity and for existence itself.

It’s interesting to see this film as it tackles these ideas headfirst, focusing on its themes first and entertainment second. Director Ridley Scott, who helmed the first Alien film back in 1979, does just as well here bringing breathtaking production value and applying it to thought-provoking content. In most summer blockbusters, directors are usually satisfied with throwing spectacular visual effects at us from the screen without having it immediately relating to the plot or its characters. Not Prometheus. Here, Scott smartly and subtly uses the visual effects as a gateway to the film and its larger narrative. Put simply, the visuals enhance the cinematic experience in the way that it is supposed to. It is not the experience in itself.

In the opening scene for instance, a grey-skinned giant swallows some sort of black liquid as his brethren boards an aircraft and flies away. As the giant stays behind, he begins to cough and choke violently as his skin begins to disintegrate. As he falls into the waterfall and his body dissolves into nothingness, the camera zooms up close to his remains, showing remnants of human DNA generating in the water.

What we are witnessing is, of course, the birth of humanity: the creation of “Adam” and “Eve”, if you will. The idea on its own is interesting and unique to other portrayals of creationism, but I’m more interested in the visual layout of the scene. Everything worked here. The elaborate makeup and costumes, the dark gray and blue coloring, the opaque and dreary landscapes. Everything culminates to form a visceral visual experience inside Prometheus: mysterious, ominous, and haunting, yet eerily beautiful in its own way

And out of any summer blockbuster to come out this year, none has a more standout cast than Prometheus does. Yes, that list does include The Avengers and The Hunger Games. While they too sport an incredible cast that lends very well to their film’s purposes, neither utilize their performers in a nuanced method that feels as real and tangible as this. Noomi Rapace, for instance, is a great lead in this movie, demonstrating a versatility and fierceness to her character that is equal parts thoughtful and uncompromising. In short, she is the perfect protagonist, and all of the emotions she experiences through the film are emotions we share with her. Theron has a thick snide to her character that is equally uncompromising, but has a colder edge to it that makes her more harsh and relentless to her fellow crew members. She starts off the film feeling like she has an ulterior agenda, yet there’s no way you could predict where exactly that agenda leads us.

Out of anyone else though, I’m most impressed by Michael Fassbender portraying an android named David. His character is endlessly fascinating. Unlike the other human characters, he seems to struggle with his existence the most, feeling superior to his mortal crew members while equally unable to relish and brag about himself. He’s artistic, cultured, intelligent, thoughtful, and has a metrosexualistic vibe to his speech and manner. Yet, he’s ultimately two-faced, and out of any of the other crew members, he’s the one you know the least about in terms of motivations and intentions. He is easily the most chilling and intriguing character out of the bunch. I would love to see where exactly Fassbender and Scott choose to take this character, should they use him in future installments.

Like any film, of course, Prometheus has its weaknesses. For one thing, it’s more intriguing and thought-provoking than it is thrilling or exciting, and that will be disappointing to fans who are expecting another horror-filled Alien romp. For all of its intelligence, there are some scenes where the science just plain doesn’t make sense, and some characters make the most unbelievably stupid decisions. And for all of its deeply-explored questions, Prometheus does not reach an established conclusion for its characters, but instead teases us to the possibilities of where they go from here.

I, however, love Prometheus and its ending because it resembles so much of mankind’s own faith and imagination for where we came from. Such an ending is appropriate because such is life. There is no concrete way to approach the unanswerable questions we have before or after watching Prometheus. They are too big of questions for just simple answers. All we can do as a developing species is keep our mind open, our eyes alert, and our ears receptive to anything we might learn in our lifetime.

We may never know the mysteries of our beginnings or endings. Indeed, only God would know such things, if you believe in one.

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“SPOTLIGHT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

“Shine a light, and let the whole world see.”

In the Boston Globe story on the 1990 Church abuse scandal, the Spotlight team reported that there were over 130 sexual assault victims from just one Catholic priest. In the film Spotlight, we eventually learn that over 80 Boston priests were sexual predators, and were being continuously circulated from parish to parish. If those numbers are consistent, how many victims of sexual assault does that spell out for Boston? My math came down to over 10,000.

I don’t know if that’s accurate because I haven’t dug much further into the Boston Globe’s reporting, but I don’t think that matters. What matters is that Spotlight made me think of those victims. It made me think about the people that you don’t normally think about, the problems that you don’t think exist, and the secrets that you don’t think are being hidden behind prayers and confession booths. Like any great piece of reporting, Spotlight brings importance, urgency, and truth that needs to be known about. If Spotlight isn’t the best film of the year, it is definitely the most important.

The Spotlight team consists of lead editor Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) and reporters Matt Carol (Brian d’Arcy James), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo). The team is specifically reserved for investigative reporting, previously breaking stories on transit mismanagement and political corruption in Massachusetts. At the time when they were given this assignment, it was not as a follow-up to a news story, but to a column written and published by one of the Globe’s staffers.

At first, no one really thought much of the project. When originally pitched, it had to do with the Catholic church finding out that one priest had sexually assaulted children in six different churches, and did nothing about it. But when the team kept digging, they found out that it was bigger than they anticipated. Much bigger.

While watching Spotlight, I was thrusted upon an early memory of one of my first major news assignments. It was a story called “Seconds Away,” and it was about a university alumna who was just seconds from crossing the finish line before it blew up during the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. The story wasn’t that she survived. It was that she went back the following year to finish crossing the line that she never did.

While getting ready for our interview, I was excited, nervous, and petrified all at once. This was a woman who had survived a near-death experience. She had faced something few other people have had to face, myself included. I didn’t know how to approach it. Was she comfortable with me talking to her? Would I be insensitive by asking serious questions? Would I be disrespectful by asking what was going through her mind? What would that say of me as a person, by asking her to relive something traumatic that she already went through?

The reporters and editors behind Spotlight face these same questions and concerns of morality every day they step into the office. Yet, they handled this difficult subject in the same way that the movie does: with grace and respect.

The greatest thing that can be said about Spotlight is its transparency: in how its characters charge towards this groundbreaking story and the emotions and conflicts they experience while doing their jobs. Writer-director Tom McCarthy, who was raised Catholic, juggles this behind-the-scenes story with real people’s traumas and emotions in mind. The result is a portrait that is genuine, astounding, mind-blowing, and heartbreaking all at once.

Take the interview scenes as a demonstration of this. During the film’s first scenes, Spotlight reporters sit down with a few sex abuse survivors, their brokenness and vulnerability made evident on the spot. The interesting thing you’ll find in between these intercut scenes is that it’s not Rachel McAdam’s mannerisms we’re noticing. It’s not Mark Ruffalo’s reactions or face of shock we’re noticing. It’s the supporting actors playing these victims, whom I can’t even identify off of the film’s cast list. Every detail of them is absorbing and introspective.

We notice the gay man in a coffee shop as he twiddles his thumbs nervously on his coffee cup. We notice the skinny drug addict sweating, entering the room cautiously, seeing scars up his arms from when he injected himself with heroin. We notice that while their testimonies are overwhelmingly tragic, they talk about it casually and on a whim; like it’s a scar that has already been healed, but will never go away. We listen to their silence as they quietly relive their traumas, the quivering in their voice as they slowly speak, the tears building up in their eyes as they come to once again realize what they are. I find that so compelling, that one of the best things in this film are the actors that I can’t even name.

The rest of the film is like that: finding value in the areas that you can’t exactly point out, but you know they are there. For instance, who’s the main protagonist? You could argue Rezendes, because he has the most visible reaction from working on this story. In reality though, this story is impacting the entire Spotlight team and more. It impacts everyone, in ways that nobody realizes until it walks right up to their doorstep.

This movie takes time and dedication to build up its story and collect the necessary information, just like Spotlight’s reporters do. In doing that, this is undeniably a slow film, but the pace doesn’t matter as much as the payoff. Spotlight deserves to be sought out. It is one of those rare films that not only makes us better viewers, but also better human beings.

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“CANVAS OF SKY” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Paul Demer’s Canvas of Sky is a humble little soliloquy, a slight and pleasurable experience that takes you soaring through the clouds, into the heavens and then back to earth with more perspective on things than you’ve had before. It does more than highlight Demer’s talents: it makes him seem ahead of his years.

We open on a track that feels like it could be played in your car as you’re driving with the windows down: “Bound For Home,” which doesn’t waste time as it opens on a jamming rock ballad that just can’t help but make you feel like you’re in the ’90s. When Demer starts singing about a world beyond our own, you instantly know that he’s not regurgitating song lyrics. They’re personal, and they mean a lot to him.

“I still believe it’s true,” he begins at the chorus. “That every day we’re created new, and this life is not our own when we realize we’re bound for home.”

As the album continues, you continue to notice small glimpses of Demer’s values and of the things he holds closest to his heart.

“One year to 20, and I thought things would be different,” he sings in “Birthday.” “But my indifference is still turning a blind eye.” On “Open Your Eyes” he says “It’s hard to see the stars when your head’s down in the dirt, and when your heart’s ajar, the small things start to hurt.” He’s also admitted that he’s afraid of losing the things he values the most, saying “I get so scared of losing all I’ve gained, but the things I cling to keep weighing me down,” in “Soaring.”

The highlight of the album is easily Demer’s talents. If you look at the album credits, you’ll notice that Demer not only wrote and performed all of his own songs, you’ll also notice he did the instrumentals too, credited on most of the album as working on the guitars, bass, drums and even the viola. His voice also has great range, from his regular-pitched Adam Young-like voice to the higher pitches that he gives in the more impressive harmonies. Whether he’s jamming on his guitar or singing one of his own lyrics doesn’t matter. Every moment feels fresh, vibrant and new.

But it’s more than what Demer simply plays in the album, it’s also what he sings about, too. Throughout the album, you hear Demer constantly referring to a higher power that he can’t control, one that no one has ever seen but only some have ever felt.

It’s in “Maybe All Is Not Lost” where we most clearly understand who he’s referring to: God.

“You are turning this world around one day at a time,” he sings. “You are giving us eyes to see so we can find you.” He later says in the chorus that God comes to him when his strength is gone.

This is what I value most about the album: Demer can express his values and beliefs and it not be in your face or ham-fisted. It’s humble, serene and sweet, like he’s talking to a childhood friend and just modestly, but strongly, expressing what he believes in, not lecturing someone because they don’t believe in the same things he does.

There are a few instances where some decisions were made on the production side of things that didn’t quite make sense. In “Bound For Home,” for instance, there’s one moment where his voice track is significantly toned down for effect, and then it just suddenly juts into the regular levels in the middle of a lyric, instead of waiting for the verse to end to make a more effective transition. The album’s last track “Run” is mostly flimsy and forgettable, making me wonder why he chose to end the album on that track rather than “Constant” or “Open Your Eyes,” the album’s stronger tracks. The worst track, however, is easily “Neutrino,” where the instrumental track is as complacent as elevator music.

Overall, Canvas of Sky is a very noteworthy album. The small technical faults are there and the production can be better, but Demer has a gift that most other musicians do not have: genuineness. You can feel genuine passion and emotion behind the things that he sings about, and you can also feel that he genuinely believes in the things that he talks about.

Canvas of Sky does more than give you a good listen: it tells you that everything is going to be alright, and it will be.

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“I’m A Historian, Not A Muslim”

Lauren Green, you simpering idiot.  I can’t believe you were actually aired on national television a few hours ago.  I’ve seen some doozies on biased interviews and reporting before, but you’ve got to take the top spot as the most shocking one yet.  You’re job as a reporter is to be objective on your subject, not subjective on information that you don’t bother to even look into.  You were so biased, inappropriate, and arrogant towards the interviewee that more people are going to mistaken christians as biased zealots rather than the open-minded, intelligent, and dedicated human beings that we are.  What a sham.

You gotta look this up just so your jaw can drop.  Sometime yesterday, during FOX news’ daily airtime, anchorwoman Lauren Green interviewed a Islam novelist named Reza Aslan, who wrote a book titled “Zealot: The Life & Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth” and had multiple PhD’s in religious studies.  Supposedly, his book looked at Jesus through a historical context and looks at his impact of our culture through his actions and through his time on Earth.  The novel received controversy as to being a
“Poorly researched, unintentionally false interpretation of Jesus”, or “sounding like old Islamic political propaganda”, quotes provided by Amazon.com.

I have not read the book, nor do I plan to anytime in the future, so I can’t criticize the author or his novel since I haven’t read it.  If what these people are saying is true, and indeed Aslan is as biased and one-sided as this reporter is, then he deserves the controversy he is receiving.  But I can’t substantiate, or comment on that, since I have no idea how authentic or genuine the research is.

I can, however, comment on Ms. Green as a reporter considering she was so rude and so aggressive during her interview.  Throughout the interview, she refused to ask any questions about his book, but instead, revert to stereotypical and critical questions such as “Why is a muslim writing a book about Jesus?”, or “Is this intended as Islam Propaganda?” and reverting to a quote from a negative review whenever her turn came around.

Seriously, look up the video.  Her stance and her treatment of her subject was so demeaning and maddening it would upset even the most conservative of Christians, such as myself.

The first thing I want to point out is why is she being so critical if she hasn’t read the book, or done research on her subject?  During the interview, she clearly has no idea about the person she is interviewing, and shows this by retreating to other people’s quotes about the book at every other question that she asks him.  You need to see this woman just to believe it: by the time she said “(blank person) said” for the fourth time, I had to go to the restroom and splash cold water in my face just to wake me up from the shock of it all.

First of all, as a fellow journalist and film critic myself, I need to point out a rule of thumb I have when reviewing movies.  Before I criticize a film, I make a point of watching the movie, all the way through, opening credits to end, so I can give substantial reasoning for why I didn’t like the movie.  I listed reasons why I hated movies like American Psycho, Shame, and The Hangover in my reviews, but they were all valid reasons for hating them because I pointed out real moments that happened in the picture.  If I were to write a negative review for, say, The Human Centipede, I couldn’t be held accountable for it because I didn’t see it or bothered to seek it out.

Now, if I hate the concept of a movie I could point that out.  I hate the concepts for movies like Project X, I Spit On Your Grave, Dogma, and The Virginity Hit, so I can trash those ideas all I want.  But I can’t criticize the execution of the projects themselves because again, I haven’t seen them.  There have been plenty of movies I thought I’d hate but then I gave them a chance and I enjoyed them quite a bit: Silence Of The Lambs is one of them.  Pulp Fiction, another.  Do The Right Thing.  Harry Potter.  Crazy Heart.  Halloween.  Taxi Driver.  Please test me on this, I can go all day.

Ms. Green reacts to Aslan’s novel in the same way I react to Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ: I hate the idea, and would reject any notion of it, but I cannot comment on the playout of it because I have not witnessed or paid attention to it myself.  The difference between me and Ms. Green is that I have this rule I abide by fervently, while she decides she doesn’t need to do research or respect Aslan as a historian or as a scholar of religious studies.  Aslan said it himself: the goal is not to be subjective of your subject.  The goal is to provide relevant and authentic data on your focus, and allow other people to form their own opinions about it.

But does Ms. Green bother to do that?  Nooooooooo.   She ham-fists her arrogant opinions and ideas into her questions and spoon-feeds them into Aslan’s mouth, forcing him to respond in awkward, shocked, and appalled answers all while he is wondering what he had done to deserve such treatment.  I would compare her interview to that of the crusade of the Westboro Baptist Church, or as I like to call them, “The Westboro Baptists”, because they don’t deserve the word “Church” anywhere in their title.  They lead an antagonistic, cruel, unharboring crusade of hatred against homosexuals and armed forces alike, and while one can see some validation in their protests (Notice: I said SOME.  More like .5%), they are a cruel and unforgiving people nonetheless.

I don’t think Green is as monstrous as they are, but she is equally as absent-minded, aggressive, and idiotic as they are.  This should be a rule of thumb for all journalists: why, in God’s name, would you act this way towards a muslim theologian when you haven’t even read the first two pages of his book?

Just so you know, I don’t actually agree with Reza either.  I think Jesus is a honorable, respectable figure in history, one who has had as much a positive impact with our culture as did Martin Luther King Jr. or Mohandas Ghandi.  I’ve been raised to believe that he is the son of God, and I believe that to this day, and I think he deserves more respect than simply being referred to as a “troublemaker” or a “threat” during that time, even though I don’t think Reza meant any offense by it.

But what Reza believes, doesn’t believe, wrote, or said doesn’t matter. Green is so obsessed in her opinion that I want to denounce her, and her entire station, for what she said and how she said it.  I know its not FOX News’ fault for the way that she behaved, even though they have had similar criticisms in the past, and I know that in the way she behaved towards Reza was of her own accord and her own disposition.

During my first semester working for the UTA Shorthorn, I produced an opinion piece about why people shouldn’t judge Christian artist TobyMac for his religious beliefs.  I was criticized in my piece for being negligent and intolerant to other people’s opinions, but what my commentators didn’t understand is that I feel this way towards all faiths.  Jewish hymns, Hindu practices, Islam chants, whatever.  They all have a beautiful thing called faith, and they all have their right to carry it out the way they want to.  It is not our job to judge it or criticize it, but it is our job to understand it and respect it, no matter how we feel about the practice overall.

On a closing note, I hope Lauren Green gets fired.

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