Thursday, May 31, 2007

Coffee at Luke's

For any fans of Gilmore Girls out there, the book that I contributed to recently titled Coffee at Lukes: An Unauthorized Gilmore Girls Gabfest has now been released. For a good summary of the book and its contents, you can check out the following link:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The End of Lost

I assume most of you Lost fans have heard the news that the show is ending in 2010 -- just three more seasons. I think it is a fantastic idea. Some shows, like 24 and Heroes are designed so that they can continue to run indefinitely. Their stories are structured that way. But others, like Lost, that center around a mystery have a definite end point. The traditional Hollywood approach, of course, has been to drag that end point out as long as possible if the show continues to be successful. I applaud the creators of Lost and ABC for having the foresight to take a different approach for a change. It means both that we won't be disappointed by a show that suddenly tanks in the ratings and gets canceled before we have sufficient resolution and that the remaining episodes should be of high quality since the writers can now focus exclusively on moving towards the ultimate resolution. Personally, I would like to see more shows adopt such an approach. There are some shows with a limited story to tell that should just annouce from the outset that they will run X number of years and then end. I think more viewers might be willing to jump on board for the ride if that were the case.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spider-Man 3

Here's my Spider-Man 3 review. If you haven't seen the movie, be forewarned that there are spoilers ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

I went into this movie excited, but realistic. Spider-Man 2 was nearly the perfect example of what a comic book movie should be. Consequently, I did not expect the third movie to top the second and I don't believe it did. However, I did enjoy it very much and did not leave the theater disappointed. I have read many of the reviews of movie critics and heard responses from many of my students. Across the board, the response seems to be mixed, with some loving it and some not. Yet, I've noticed that for many of the people who didn't like it that much, it was often because it didn't top the second movie -- an unrealistic expectation to begin with from my way of thinking.

Spider-Man 3 benefits greatly from maintaining the same cast, director, and production team. The quality of the movie is thus on par with the first two. It serves as a fitting conclusion to this initial trilogy by tying up virtually all of the story lines set up by the first two. I'm not sure of what would be the best way to write my review, so I'm just going to list what I liked and didn't like about the movie. Since it's a much shorter list, I will start with what I did not like.

The occasionally rushed feel of the film. I think Raimi tried to fit too much into this movie and so had to force some things rather than let them unfold naturally.

The script, though good, lacked some of the tightness of the other two films.

The gigantic Sandman at the end of the film. In the comics, Sandman was not able to expand to such gargantuan sizes. By making him bigger, it made him less interesting to me.

I would have liked more of Venom. In fact, he should have his own movie.

The special effects were outstanding. This movie contained some of the most thrilling web-swinging and fight scenes we've seen.

The initial battle sequence between Peter Parker and the new Goblin. The previous two movies shied away from in-air battle sequences because they hadn't quite figured out how to make them work. In this movie, they got it. It really captures the kind of mid-air fights that are a staple of the comics.

The birth of Sandman. His attempts at formation in the particle accelerator are fascinating to watch.

Gwen Stacy. She was always one of my favorite characters. I think she was under-used in this film, but just having her in the movie and the possibilities it creates for future films is exciting.

Black-suited Spider-Man. I always liked the black suit in the comic and it was great to see it come to life. The way the symbiote alters Peter's personality is very faithful to the comic.

Goth Peter. I thought Tobey did a good job of pulling off Peter's transformation to the dark side.

The dance scene. I know some people who found Peter's semi-impromptu performance in the jazz room to be kind of cheesy, but I found it very enjoyable to watch.

The earlier scenes of Sandman. I thought Thomas Hayden Church was perfect casting for that role and he captured the essence of Sandman. He was always a villain who wasn't really sure he wanted to be a villain.

The redemption of Harry Osborn. I could see it coming a mile away as they foreshadowed it early in the film, but I still thought it tied up his story line well.

Venom. Venom. Venom. I love Venom. Always have, always will. Visually, they depicted him very well. I do wish they had kept the Venom face on him more rather than switch to Eddie Brock whenever he wanted to talk. The movie was very faithful to the Venom story, right down to the church bell scene. The reason why Eddie Brock was in that church in the comic was different, but that's a relatively minor point. I'm hoping that the way Venom was dealt with in the movie -- note that we didn't actually see it or Eddie Brock die -- means that we may seem him again down the road.

Again, this installment doesn't scale the heights of Spider-Man 2, but it is definitely, in my humble opinion, a worthy addition to the Spider-Man saga.

If you've seen the movie, I'm curious to hear what you think.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

My Top Five

We are about to embark on my second favorite time of the year (after Christmas): the summer movie season. This summer it appears to be the year of the sequel. I'm okay with that. I'm somewhat fond of sequels, even though usually disappointed by them. But sequels have been getting progressively better. The Powers That Be are finally realizing that what makes a sequel work is not putting the same actors up on the screen and sticking a Roman numeral after the title, but actually continuing the story in a logical and intelligent fashion. But I digress. Here are the five movies of this summer that I am most anticipating. Note that I did not say they would be the five best (in fact, I'm pretty sure they will not be), but the five that I am most eager to see.

1. Spider-Man 3
This is probably not a surprise.

2. Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer
I am not a huge fan of the Fantastic Four, but I enjoyed the first movie quite a bit. It was definitely flawed and certainly not on the level of a Spider-Man or Batman movie, but I found it entertaining. The sequel looks to be even more fun. The Silver Surfer takes the whole movie to another level.

3. The Bourne Ultimatum
I absolutely loved the first movie, The Bourne Identity. I was quite disappointed in the second movie, The Bourne Supremacy, and I blame that on Paul Greengrass. He adopted a shaky camera approach to direction in a misguided attempt to create faux-realism that pretty much ruined much of the film for me. If he can rein himself in and keep the camera-shaking to a minimum, this third outing will have real potential.

4. 1408
This is based on a short story by Stephen King that was the most frightening thing I read last year. This is about a writer who makes a living debunking the paranormal. He travels to a New York hotel to spend a night in room 1408, a room that has a decidely impressive ghostly pedigree. Let's just say he learns the error of his ways.

5. Ocean's Thirteen
Loved the first one. Didn't care much for the second. But if what I hear is true, this third installment should adhere more to the former.

I Am Offended . . .

I love stories. It's why I am so attracted to film, television, comic books, and novels. Stories are part of the lifeblood of any culture. They have the power to challenge us, move us, and educate us. That's why I love television. I have found nowhere in the last 10 years where more profound and engaging stories are being told in our culture than there.

Now, from a Christian perspective, those stories are not perfect. As has often been noted, they frequently contain sex, violence, and profanity. Let me go on the record as saying I am not fond of that aspect of our culture's stories. I think we as a culture need to think long and hard about the impact that repeated exposure to such elements has on our culture. But frankly, I don't talk about that much in the classes I teach on religion and popular culture or in the writings I do. I sometimes fear that my failure to do so gives off the wrong impression -- that I defend those aspects of our stories. In some instances that may be true, but primarily the reason I don't talk about that is because Christians have never stopped talking about it. We've heard that message over and over again and there's nothing new I can add to it.

Besides, what often happens when people obsess over that aspect of the stories is that they miss everything else that is good, redemptive, and engaging about the stories. Even worse, they focus so much on sex, violence, and profanity that they ignore all the other moral issues in the media that are just as, if not more, dangerous to our cultural identity.

To that end, here is my list of what offends me on television:

I am offended by advertisements that show us pictures of Elmo Dolls, BK Broilers, or the latest Toyota, but are really selling the idea that contentment can only be found in having.

I am offended by game shows that promote materialism and greed.

I am offended by commercials that perpetuate a female body image that says young girls and women need to look, dress, and act a certain way to find acceptance.

I am offended by news programs that feed us a steady diet of fear, misery, and pessimism. (In fact, a fellow colleague of mine is convinced that the most immoral show on television is the news.)

I am offended by political talk shows in which participants sacrifice honesty and depth in favor of soundbites, shouting, and name calling.

I am offended by daytime talk shows that trade in human misery for entertainment.

I am offended by sports programs, tabloid news shows, and American Idol-type competitions that teach children that fame and fortune is the highest ideal to which they can aspire and that reinforce America's cult of celebrity by turning athletes, actors, and musicians into our cultural heroes.

In short, given what else is on television, I'll take Lost, Heroes, and Smallville anyday.