Saturday, July 23, 2005

Is This Art?

This is an untitled piece by Nina Waisman a 7th term student at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.

In the Centers on words

Fundamental to Art Center's core curricula is a commitment to social and cultural engagement and giving students the tools and skills with which to effect change and address real-world issues.

Okay, if that is the case, and granted it sounds noble ( it does raise another question of what is arts primary purpose, but I'll get to that in another post), does the piece above engage the viewer 'socially and culturally'?

Now you could say the artist is making a statement about consumerism in society, but what? There are the funny shaped green "bottles" off-centered in the piece, that are lined up and passed off as part of the product placements. What can we infer from that? I don't know. To be honest, the artist would have to explain her piece of work to the viewer. It raises questions, but gives no answers. To sum it up this is post-modern-relativistic art. It has various meanings depending on the interpretation of the viewer. What you get out of it is what it means.

So, back to my original questions, "Is this art?" The postmodern response would be "it depends on what you think." Ahh, that is cultural engagement!

Friday, July 15, 2005

War of the World: A Movie Review

Steven Spielberg has done it again. He has made another satisfying movie for the masses. I wonder how would it be to produce such art that is so thoroughly enjoyable to watch? Right now only Spielberg knows that feeling, as the movie industry suffers from a poor box office year. War of the Worlds, based on H.G. Wells’s 1898 novel of the same name, is about aliens attacking the earth.

Aliens’ attacking is a simple enough premise for a novel and a movie, but can it be pulled off successfully without being blasé? The answer is “Yes,” Spielberg takes Wells’s novel and from what I here is pretty faithful to its original intent crafts a movie that keeps you on edge for most of the time. Spielberg adeptly starts the movie by focusing on a mechanical beast of our own time – a container crane, in which the protagonist, Ray Ferrier, played by Tom Cruise nimbly removes a container from a ship. This scene foreshadows the mechanical monsters and their methodical way of picking off humans as easy as Ray picks up those metal containers. But this is only the beginning of some of the nuance film directing Spielberg displays in this movie that shows he is a master craftsman at what he does best – make movies.

The film creates a sense of tension and suspense from the first lightening strikes to the aliens burst out of the ground. This is also were the acting becomes key to the weight of the movie. Dakota Fannings’ character, Rachel Ferrier, the 10 year old daughter of Ray, shows the fear and tension an event like this would have on such a child. Sometimes her hollering gets tedious, but as the movie progresses you see the growth of her character as she controls her fears to save her and her Dad’s life. Ray’s son, Robbie, played by Justin Chatwin, seems a little to calm for the tense situation that’s taking place all around him. And the scene where Robbie defiantly marches towards the alien invaders as a military unit takes up defensive positions is just unbelievable and really strains the credibility of the movie. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise. He has his typical “Cruise” swagger to fit his role as a deadbeat dad/longshoreman, but he does show some skill as he portrays a father trying to keep his family together.

The heart of this movie is a familial theme of how a man becomes a real Dad and not just a biological father. You see the growth of Ray from a loser dad, who gives up in relating to his children to one who, through this very stressful situation, develops a bond that cannot be broken. As Paul Clinton at points out, the son-father relationship could have been left totally out of the movie, and it probably would have made the movie better. The scenes with the son were the weaker moments in the film.

Now as a sci-fi fan I did notice some inconsistencies in the films portrayal of the alien invaders. Some of these missteps included the lack of mother ships or aerial assault crafts. Obviously, the aliens have the capabilities because there is a scene that shows how the aliens get into the mech monsters to start the attack. You would think that a blitz like this would include air and ground assault. (I just though about it, but maybe Spielberg wanted to stay away from any comparisons to the alien aerial attack in the blockbuster Independence Day movie. But it would just make sense that these aliens would have spacecraft!) Another faux pas is the lack of infrared capabilities of the aliens. These are highly advanced creatures with amazing technological equipment, yet they can’t see the heat signatures of humans behind a wooden wall? C’mon! There is a scene in which Spielberg lets the viewer see what the alien invaders see as they look on the face of an obviously petrified Rachel. But that move just solidifies the flub by an otherwise solid director.

Finally, I liked Spielberg’s allusions to the 9/11 tragedy and his other alien movies, E.T. and Close Encounters they were not over the top nor overly sentimental. Spielberg is at the top of his game and he knows it. He manipulates each scene to full effect to make a thriller of a movie that is both enjoyable and suspenseful at the same time. I can definitely go on that ride again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

“Why Read Old Books?”

This was the response of my son when I told him that he had to read J. Verne’s’ 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. According to my son this book is old and boring, (Just think if I had him read the Illiad, he would have went into convulsions.) So, why should my son have to read old books? Is not The Adventures of Captain Underpants good enough?

Since I was not raised with Classical literature, and as one who came late to the game what could I say to my son concerning this question? Any reading when compared to video games is “boring.” In video games you have the imagery created for you, in books you have to create the imagery. For example, in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo isn’t some 2-D character on the screen (Okay 3-D for PS2 and above) as the reader you have to take Julius Verne’s words and imagine Captain Nemo, that is work and nowadays anything relating to work is ‘boring.’ Video games, with the whiz, bang of exciting flashes, character and even storylines is passive entertainment. My son is a spectator in a world that is already created for him.

So it seems like old books don’t have a chance in today’s video game drenched society. So how did I defend my requirement for my son to read the ‘old books’? First, I told him that most things that are truly worthwhile you have to work for it, and that includes the reading of classical literature. As I admitted above I came late to the game. I read Homer’s Odyssey for the first time last year. It was not an ‘easy’ endeavor to get through 24 chapters of Greek epic poetry, but it was well worth the struggle. I was able to examine the idea of Greek heroes and ancient virtues and juxtapose those ideas against our modern understanding of heroes. Furthermore, I was able to get a deeper understanding of what it means to be a leader, as portrayed by Odysseus. I could not have gotten this from a video game no matter how good the graphics are, or the storyline.

Second, like the Book of Ecclesiastes says ‘there is nothing new under the sun,’ and that it definitely true for stories. There are no new themes in modern stories, but variations of the themes that have been around since ancient times. Even the storylines in video games borrow from classical literature with spruced up graphics and player interaction. The Legend of Zelda by Nintendo has overtures to Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. But my son will never see the connections and allusions unless he reads the original works.

Well, my son was not convinced by my argumentation. It came down to I, the father, telling my son what he will read this summer or he will not play the very video games he so much loves. I was hoping that my son would desire to read these old books on his own and explore, through story, the very world that God has created, but it wasn’t so. I pray that in the end he will appreciate what I had him do this summer in reading the ‘old books’ so that when he has a son (or daughter) he will explain the “why do read old books.”

Friday, July 08, 2005

Jack of All Trades, Master of None...

Now that I have a master's degree in Christian Apologetics I have to admit that I really don't know to much. I'm not trying to be humble, just honest. There is so much out there just concerning Christian apologetics that a person could spend YEARS on just one subject!

For example, I love biblical archaeology! But there are so many issues concerning biblical archaeology it's just amazing. Look at Hershel Shank and his Biblical Archaeology Review! He has made a living highlighting various archaeological controversies around the Bible, such as the shroud of Turin. (Is it really the image of Christ?) But I've discovered one thing about archaeology; everybody approaches the "facts" with some type of presupposition, which I don't have a problem with. I just want the "experts" to acknowledge it.

I've come to the realization that some questions will never be answered this side of glory. We will never really know how God form Adam and Eve. Nor will we know what the world was really like before the flood, or Moses' experience at the burning bush. But does that mean that we stop asking questions or challenging our assumptions? I hope not! One thing I do know is that humanity has the God-given ability to question ourselves and our surroundings, so I may never know the answer, but I will always pose the questions.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Change is in the air...

I am finally settling down from two months of going back and forth from LA to Sac for work. Now I get back to some semblance of a routine.

My blog has been in disarray and unused for awhile, but that is soon to change. I'm planning to update regularly and to post often. So stay tune...