Category Archives: Media

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality” Frank Redman’s ELIJAH

I don’t know exactly where to begin this review, which angle to take. I’m reeling. My wife and teenager have been commending Frank Redman‘s  ELIJAH: A SUSPENSE NOVEL to me for weeks now, and I finally read it. In short, I can say it was amazing, entertaining, chilling, and a punch in the gut in ways for which I was not prepared.  Apparently, I am not alone in this regard.  My wife remarked to me that with the internet’s instant access to so much information, when one writes about a book, a review is not sufficient.  Rather, an encounter would better describe it, where one meets the author, reads the background and influences, and embraces the story and its characters.  It certainly is true for our experience with Frank Redman and ELIJAH.

Frank Redman is a brand new author, whose own journey in the writing profession sounds like something out of a movie.  It’s his debut book, so I was thinking it might be something like early C.S. Lewis with a few twists in the manner of Dean Koontz, but it’s that and more.

By the time I got to the end of ELIJAH, I’d say it’s better than the early C.S. Lewis. This story has the mystique, chilling suspense, and humor of a Christian “Twin Peaks” or a more tightly written THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.   It takes you into levels of evil that many of us would rather not know at all, but far too many people actually live through. Many writers depict such evil and either glorify it or give it a worldly punishment, but few provide a sense of hope that there is something better, that victims can still find happiness and holiness. Frank Redman is one of those few writers, and ELIJAH  is a book with a message that needs to be read.

St. Augustine says a work of perfect logic may be true but if it’s boring to read, it won’t do any good, and people are more willing to read and believe something that’s eloquent. The same is true of literature and movies: it doesn’t matter how true it is or how artistically “well crafted” it is. If it doesn’t draw people in, nobody will read it. HAMLET may have psychological and moral depth, but it’s basically a story about murder, ghosts and revenge.   ELIJAH has it all.  It immediately drew me in with the supernatural and suspense, has great depth in the character’s dealings with his horrid past, as well as fantastically funny insights with well-crafted characters who open your eyes to the devastating horrors that are hidden in daily life.   The reality of evil is tangible, but it’s tempered with hope and perseverance.


At times, the story of an author can sometimes be as compelling as the book the author wrote. This can be an advantage in attracting readers, as it is what led us to Frank Redman and ELIJAH. My wife and I both became Dean Koontz fans a little over a year ago. She noticed that Koontz has referred a few times to his friend Frank Redman (he dedicated SAINT ODD to him and said Frank’s struggle with brain cancer inspired ASHLEY BELL).

This book is dedicated to Frank Redman, who has more than once reminded me of Odd Thomas

Through a series of events that I’ll leave Frank Redman to tell, he began a mentorship with Dean Koontz.  Koontz had read some of his writing, saw potential, and agreed to mentor Frank. Then, on the same day that I had my descending aorta surgery, Frank was diagnosed with an extremely rare and extremely lethal brain cancer–most people diagnosed with it are only diagnosed with it posthumously, and if they are diagnosed while alive, they die in days or weeks. Frank is still alive nearly 4 years later.  So, with a sense of urgency, I set aside the few dozen “in progress” books I’ve been working on reading for years to read ELIJAH, reading late into the night, and enjoying it more and more with each swipe of the screen.


People don’t want to acknowledge the reality or enormity of Evil in the world.  It’s often hidden, and when it’s revealed, it can be nauseating, horrifying, and seemingly unfathomable.  The desire to stick one’s head in the sand is understandable, but unadvised.  Even less do people want to acknowledge the reality and enormity of God’s grace.  Redman’s ELIJAH addresses both supernatural phenomenon and their implications in our reality, in an engaging, fast-paced, thriller that will leave you reeling and pondering for weeks.

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“Doesn’t She Look Tired”: Evita, Doctor Who and the power of Words

On the new Doctor Who, there was a character called “Harriet Jones,” known for her running joke, introducing herself as “Harriet Jones, Minister of Parliament,” etc., which is usually answered with, “Yes, I/we know who you are.”  In the first appearance of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, he thwarts an alien invasion with minimal violence and convinces the would-be invaders to leave, but Harriet, now “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister,” has been working on a secret weapon to defend earth and wants to prove earth can defend itself without the Doctor.  In spite of the treaty he just negotiated, she destroys the fleeing ship with her weapon, after the Doctor threatens her by saying that he’s powerful enough to take her down with six words.  After she defies him and fires the weapon, destroying the fleeing aliens, he leans in the ear of her closest advisor and asks, “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

One of the reasons Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were a successful team was their contrasts: ALW was always a believer to some extent; Rice was an agnostic, and so on. Rice developed an admiration for Eva Peron in the early ’70s and wanted to write a musical about her. ALW resisted for several years, till he saw her story as a modern tragedy of the cost of fame.  While Lloyd-Webber has never been a lyricist, he usually collaborates on the “book” (play) of his shows, and on the basic idea behind a song.

So with Evita, who was known as the “Rainbow of Argentina,” he thought about Judy Garland.  He had attended one of her final concerts when he was younger, and he reflected on how pathetic she was–how she could barely sing, how broken she looked, and how people were literally throwing money on the stage.

Lloyd Webber worked in an “Over the Rainbow” theme to Evita (he’d later acquire the rights to Wizard of Oz and turn it into a sung through musical with his own new songs added to the classic movie tunes.   In “Eva Beware of the City,” she says, “Birds fly out of here, so why, o why the h— can’t I?”   In the song “Rainbow Tour,” Eva’s visit to France end when “She suddenly seemed to lose interest; she looked tired.”

It only takes a few words to destroy someone’s reputation.

TF movie voice actors mashup

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time.  I often imagine the characters being dubbed by lines from their other famous roles, or else see the Transformers talking when I hear them in other shows or movies, between  live action stars (e.g., Robert Stack of Unsolved Mysteries, Lionel Stander of Hart to Hart, Judd Nelson of Breakfast Club, Orson Wells of Citizen Kane, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek) or the prolific and easily recognized voice actors like Frank Welker (always Fred on Scooby-Doo  and Scooby himself since the death of Don Messick), Peter Cullen (Eeyore and many other Disney roles, not to mention TF’s direct competitors Gobots and Voltron), Scatman Crothers (Hong Kong Phooey), Casey Kasem (Shaggy), Susan Blu (the caller on Magic School Bus and many other roles) etc.  If I had the time to waste, I’d redub the movie, but here instead are some clips with quotes or paraphrases as captions).

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[On seeing Unicron] Cliffjumper: “Zoinks!” Jazz: “Let me check my _Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu!_”

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“Thanks for rememberin’ me!”

 

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“I have an idea, gang.  Let’s split up and look for clues!”

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“Scooby Dooby Dooo!”

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“COBRAAA!”

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“Perhaps *you* can help stop a Decepticon!”

 

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“Hello? Is this the Magic School Bus?  I  don’t think this episode is very accurate.”

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“From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend: the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe!”

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“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”

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“I have been, and always shall be, your enemy!  Live long and prosper, not!”


 

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Kup: “This is my Boss, Rodimus Prime: Self-Made Autobot Leader.  He’s quite a guy!”

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“Rosebud?”

 

“Joy of Love”–What’s missing

The media are abuzz with Pope Francis’s long-anticipated Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation _Amoris Laetitia_, and from what I’ve seen on Facebook, the following Bingo game could be quickly won:

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I’ve read the first three chapters, and I’ve read that, like every other document from Pope Francis, the several assurances of orthodoxy in the first few chapters are followed up by a buried lied of “freedom of conscience” somewhere in the middle.

Let’s set aside that “freedom of conscience” and “Let’s adopt a new tone instead of authoritarianism” has been said over and over since  Vatican II.  Let’s set aside that some of the same people who, almost 20 years ago, were having conniptions over a very similar, but more more succinct, document from Rembert Weakland are now saying, “Let’s celebrate!  The Pope didn’t change doctrine!”

As usual, I sympathize, though don’t entirely agree with, the Pope’s critics from the “Right.”  My reaction thus far is really disappointment.  The document is the epitome of lukewarm.  It’s so insipid and boring I was outraged by the waste of time.  It really adds nothing to what previous documents have already said on any of the subjects at play.

When it comes to marriage and family issues, there are four groups of people:

1) Those who want a clear-cut, black and white moral code.

2) Those who “freedom of conscience” *from* the Church.

3) Those who simply don’t care.

4) Those who want to follow the Church but are struggling with difficult situations.

Group #2 are the only ones who have any cause for celebration in this document, and they are celebrating.  However, from what I’ve read directly or seen quoted, it *really* doesn’t say anything that isn’t somewhere in the post-Vatican II magisterium already.

Ostensibly, the whole point of the Synod was to address group 4, but so far it seems to be more of the same:

Yes, extreme circumstances may mitigate culpability.  However, this seems addressed in a way that’s more about alleviating the responsibility of pastors than providing mercy to those who struggle.  Emphasizing lack of culpability works out to the same as emphasizing sin in a punitive manner: both escape the Biblical responsibility of the clergy to help those who are in need.

This has always been my problem with group 2, the so-called “liberals” or “progressives”: too often, I’ve seen Acts of the Apostles cited by liberals to support socialism or communism rather than Christian community.

The Pope says we should “admire” and “be supportive” of families with disabled parents or children, single mothers, and so forth.  But “being supportive” is very different from “supporting”.  He mentions civic responsibility, but not clerical responsibility.

Instead, it’s the cop-out of “personal conscience.”  So much easier to say, “You’re not really responsible for the sins you commit out of  desperation” than to say, “We’re going to try to provide you with practical help so you don’t have to be put in a situation of desperation.”

 

The Abominable Bride: Did Sherlock Jump the Shark?

Sherlock: Since when have you had any kind of imagination?
John: Perhaps since I convinced the reading public that an unprincipled drug addict was some kind of gentleman hero.
Sherlock: Yes, now you come to mention it, that was quite impressive.
(From Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Read more at: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/viewtopic.php?f=51&t=24430

It’s hardly the first time I’ve inspired a writer, Watson. I am actually the basis for several fictional characters across various media. It’s one of the by-products of my success as a detective.
(From Elementary, season 04, episode 07, “Miss Taken”)
Read more at: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=24516

After two years, fans of BBC’s Sherlock have finally seen the long-anticipated special The Abominable Bride (you can watch it online here for the next week or so.

Now, as we wait at least another year for Season 4, I’m left wondering whether Sherlock has jumped the proverbial shark, presented a deconstructionist masterpiece, or both.

I included the quote from this past week’s Elementary because both series seem to be necessarily self-aware at times.  Last year, it touched on it with the necessity of “One Watson, One Holmes,” where their roles are referred to as almost a thing of destiny.  In an earlier episode, “End of Watch,” a member of Holmes’s Narcotics Anonymous group publishes a blog with quotations of Sherlock’s wisdom shared at meetings–thus resulting an in-universe explanation for popular Sherlock Holmes quotations like, “When we have eliminated the impossible, . . .”

One problem with such series, like Once Upon a Time, is the constant question of how these people attained such legendary status while being our contemporaries.  Sherlock addresses the question overtly via Watson’s blog, the equivalent of Conan Doyle’s conceit of the stories being written by Watson.

The idea of Sherlock Holmes being contemporary is nothing new.  Previous adaptations, most notably the mid-1940s Universal Studios/Basil Rathbone movies, have been set in whatever era they were made (the 2 1939 Fox-produced Rathbone films, and the Rathbone radio drama, were all set in the original era).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were really the first series in the modern sense.  While therehad been serialized novels like Les Miserables that could have been made into multi-year TV series today, and many sequels, the 56 short stories and 4 novels Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes were unprecedented.  Further, starting with the infamous ten-year letter-writing campaign that pressured Conan Doyle to bring the character back from the dead in 1903 when he’d intended 1894’s “The Final Problem” to be just that, to early commentaries that attempted to reconcile problems with the continuity, Conan Doyle inspired both the concept of the “series” and the concept of fandom.

Elementary may have been CBS’s attempt to capitalize on Sherlock’s popularity, but it also interestingly premiered the Fall after House, MD, ended, and Johnny Lee Miller’s approach to Holmes, more like Jeremy Brett than Cumberbatch has been to date (see below), also evokes Hugh Laurie’s Holmes-based doctor.

The first episode of Sherlock in 2010 seems to evoke elements of House (the ambiguity of Watson’s leg and cane usage, recalling both House and the original Watson; and Martin Freeman’s Watson reminds me more of Robert Sean Leonard’s James Wilson than any previous Watson) and Monk (inducing a police detective’s relationship status based upon similar clues).

Thus, like some movies like The Seven Per-Cent Solution and They Might Be Giants, both the current series, but Sherlock, in particular, have always played on the mythic status of the characters to explore questions of myth versus reality.  Though it is overtly  an attempt to pay homage to the original stories, and to the Jeremy Brett series (including a variation on the Brett Sherlock Holmes theme song, sets that recalled that interpretation of 221B Baker Street, and even a slight different in Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting style), “The Abominable Bride” definitely evokes both those films’ themes of paranoia and addiction, fantasy and reality.

In so doing, “The Abominable Bride” creates a conundrum.  Like every episode of Sherlock, it packs a lot into one episode, and it seems designed for repeat viewing.  However, while the first six episodes/movies do so by packing a lot of clues, Easter Eggs and humor, and cases that are resolved, this episode works more like an episode of Doctor Who.

The more I think about the special, the more it seems to “work,” but if it “works,” it undermines the whole series.  It’s like the Tommy Westphall hypothesis.  The theory, originally a satire of fans’ (myself included) obsession about “continuity,” meant to show how difficult it is to expect continuity of a single series (Ben Matlock lives in the same house for 9 seasons but three different houses are used for the outside), much less shows (or comic books) that cross-over.   Thus, the originally joking theory (which eventually grew into being what it was mocking) holds that every show ever is the wrapped up in the hallucination of Tommy Westphall on St. Elsewhere, since so many shows crossed over with it during its run or after, in a variant of 6 Degrees of Separation.  Any show that can be shown to “cross over” with a show that crossed over with St. Elsewhere is all part of the vast hallucination.

Thus, “The Abominable Bride” leaves the viewer with a similar dilemma.  In the first two seasons, Sherlock had seemingly substituted the character’s classic addictions with caffeine and nicotine, yet opium and other drugs were shown in season 3, and now at last the “seven per-cent solution” of cocaine.  We’re told that, shortly before boarding a plane to exile as a spy in “His Last Vow,” Sherlock took a cocktail of dangerous drugs.  When the episode ends, we see Moriarty, seemingly alive and having taken over all the media in the UK.  Mycroft calls for the plane to return.  In this episode, we see the 1890s versions of the characters, and in the middle find out we’re in Sherlock’s “mind palace”: he has supposedly concocted an elaborate supposition of himself in a different era trying to solve an old case of someone who had died in a similar way to Moriarty to try and figure out how he survived.  You may recall that even “The Great Game” had undermined our confidence in the character by Moriarty’s suggestion that he was just an actor, hired to make Sherlock Holmes look good.

Now, we see Holmes hallucinating the famous incident of the Reichenbach Falls, confronting Moriarty there as in Conan Doyle, with them engaging in a dialogue about how it “always ends here,” or some such.  As “our” Sherlock keeps coming in and out of his “hallucination,” we are faced with a rift in the show’s “reality.”  In the end, we see Holmes and Watson in the 1890s talking, and Holmes suggests that he is telling Watson a supposition about what life might be like in the 2010s!

It’s a worthy mystery: is the whole series just the fantasy of the “real” Sherlock Holmes in the 1890s?  Is the whole series a drug-induced paranoid fantasy of the “real” Sherlock Holmes in the 2010s?  Is most of it real, but the last few moments of Season 3 and all of “The Abominable Bride” a delusion?
Is the whole episode undermining us as fans and viewers and readers, trusting in the lie that an “unprincipled drug addict is a gentleman hero”?

Or has the show gone too far into the Fourth Wall?  One of the most infamous examples of “shark jumping” besides the Happy Days episode that inspired the term is season 9 of Dallas, the “Dream Season.”  Since Bobby Ewing had been visibly killed on screen at the end of season 8, when Patrick Duffy came back a year later, the producers made the entire year a dream Pam had about him being killed, and the show attempted to pick up where season 8 ended, with the storylines following different paths.  Though there were 5 seasons after “the dream,” it undermined fan confidence.

The genius of “The Abominable Bride” is that it takes that whole questioning of “fictional reality” to a new level.  The risk is it’s too obscure.  What is the point of watching Season 4 or the alleged season 5 if the whole thing is potentially the drug induced fantasy of either Holmes?

I want to talk about Star Wars Theories

Not about spoilers for Episode VII: The Force Awakens, mind you: the theories themselves, their existence.

It now seems a long time ago (for some of us, it was) that Disney bought LucasFilm  and announced not only a new “trilogy,” but a set of tied in one-off films in the manner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so there will be at least one Star Wars movie a year for the foreseeable future.

Even before that, though, Star Wars was, of course, a very popular topic online, generally of course why the “original trilogy” was good, why Empire Strikes Back was great, why the prequel trilogy was bad, or else how the original trilogy has some weaknesses and the prequels have strength.

A common theme that shows up is that the “Dark Side” of the Force are actually the good guys.  The prequels show the Republic and its Jedi secret police to be corrupt and incompetent.  The Empire just wants to bring order and governance.  The destruction of Alderaan was, in the galactic perspective, a legitimate military target.
The Rebellion wants to restore the chaos.

More importantly, Yoda, the “oldest and wisest of the Jedi” allows a Sith Lord to not only escape his notice but to work closely with him for *years* without getting a hint.  Yoda and Obi-wan are a couple of  liars who deceive Luke about his father *and* his sister (spoiler alert!).   Almost everything Obi-wan says in the “first” movie is revealed to be a lie by the end of Return of the Jedi and definitely by the end of Revenge of the Sith:
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Are these moral ambiguities merely plot holes?

Or is there a deeper problem with the series’ Gnosticism?

C. S. Lewis, after St. Augustine and many others, argues that the inherent flaw of a Dualistic worldview is that we’re told that “good” and “evil” are equal, opposing forces, and there’s no reason to say, “this side is good” and “this side is bad,” other than subjective perspective.

The same Obi-Wan Kenobi who described Vader as “Twisted and evil” earlier told Vader, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” (itself one of the statements used in evidence against the Jedi as the “good guys”).

On the other hand, when Darth Tyrannus is talking to Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones, he is telling the truth: the Republic is under the control of a Sith Lord; the Republic is riddled with corruption.

Many Star Wars fans argue that the terms “good” and “evil” should not be applied, that it’s “light” and “dark,” because the Force is not even dualistic: there is one Force, not a “Good Force” and a “Bad Force”; just one Force with two sides.  The Force can be accessed using different emotions, like the Lanterns in the DC universe.  The “light” side uses emotions generally considered “positive,” and the “dark” side is fueled by anger, revenge, hate, etc.

Watching The Force Awakens, while I enjoyed it and believe it has many strengths, I tended to agree with the L’Osservatore Romano review that evil is not clear in the film.  It’s kind of gloomy and pessimistic–which makes sense in a movie that’s supposed to be the inversion of “A New Hope,” but there’s also an even greater sense of that lack of clear lines of what is good and what is evil, because the characters lack a clear motivation or guideline.

The “Force” does not give moral laws; it just gives powers.  In real life, this is the problem of a dualistic worldview.  As soon as you say, “That is evil,” unless you mean it as, “I find that unpleasant,” you’re really saying there has to be one God who tells us what is evil.

Pray and fast. And Fast.

When a mass shooter professes atheism or devil worship, posts anti-Christian and pro-abortion screeds online, considers himself a Democrat, etc., the media blame guns. If he’s Muslim, they blame guns and his victims, or say “workplace violence.” If he’s supposedly Christian, anti-abortion, and/or conservative, they blame Christians, abortion opponents and/or conservatives for “hate speech.”

What do all these inconsistent attributions have in common?

They never blame the evil in men’s hearts. They never blame the shooter himself (or herself) for just intending evil.

Why?

The foundation of liberalism (in all its forms) is the denial of original sin, promulgated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  For almost 400 years, people have been soaking in Rousseau’s teaching that people are born good and corrupted by society–without any real explanation of where corruption, then, comes from–that by giving people more education, more money, more this, more that, reforming this institution and getting rid of that one, somehow they can come up with the right formula for “curing” evil.

“We can end terrorism by doing X”
“We can prevent war by Y”

If a behavior, particularly a sexual behavior, *does* seem inborn and not learned, then the liberal insists that behavior must not be wrong.

Russell Kirk sees this as one of the basic lines of demarcation between what constitutions a “conservative” or a “liberal”: whether one believes in some form of “original sin” or one believes in Rousseau’s teaching that evil is learned.

Recently, I learned some background on Rousseau I’d never heard before by watching this Fulton Sheen rerun on EWTN:

When I did the VIRTUS training, something struck me: in the video about sexual predators, the “experts,” psychologists, law enforcement people, and most notably, the clergy, talked about psychology and “reasons” why they thought pedophiles hurt children.  Nobody mentioned the Devil.  The only ones who actually talked about evil were the convicted child molestors they interviewed: “People try to say this is about love.  It isn’t,” they said.  “I wanted to do evil.  I wanted to hurt these children.”

When I was in school, I forget whether it was the nondenominational school I attended in 6th grade or the Catholic high school, I remember a video featuring a former Satanist who said he set out to break every commandment in the worst way possible to gain admittance into a coven and gain magical powers.  An imprisoned would-be school shooter claims he was going to do it because he’s a Satanist, and that he had posted about it on a message board, that Satanists rank themselves and seem power from the Devil by murder.  Supposedly at least one of the recent shooters was involved in such a group.

Yet if you talk about the Devil, people claim you’re making excuses, when they’ll gladly blame guns or just about any other external “cause” than the person’s evil intent or demonic influence.

Pray and fast, and fast.