Friday, August 31, 2012

The Possession (Movie Review)

In The Possession, recently divorced Clyde is attempting to build a new life over the weekends with his teenage daughters. When they stop at a yard sale, his youngest daughter, Emily, purchases an old wooden box with Hebrew characters etched on the outside.

Soon the box gains a treasured place in her room, her schoolbag, and every moment of her life. Emily's behavior becomes more and more strange and violent. When coupled with the eerie events that are becoming increasingly frequent around Emily, Clyde realizes he is facing a supernatural evil intent on destroying his daughter, that he is unprepared to confront.

The Possession is not gory. It doesn't thrive on jump scares. It also doesn't have a central "creature" providing thrills. Instead, it falls into what I would describe as the "creep-scare" genre, which includes movies like The Ring, The Grudge and Paranormal Activity. In fact it owes quite a bit to these movies, despite doing a few new things.

Performances are pretty good, though a little inconsistent, ranging from engaging and realistic to "actors making choices". Even Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Clyde) is not immune to this, although he still anchors the movie very well and is easy to sympathize with. I do have to give high praise to Natasha Calis, who played Emily. Keep that name in your memory banks. I'm betting she'll be a big star within 5-10 more years.

The visual effects are well done except when they overstep their bounds and become too ambitious. In these moments, the tell-tale signs of CGI took me out of the movie, wishing they had used make-up effects instead.

There are several very creepy visuals that genre fans will enjoy and even get some tingles from. But this movie is still likely to be forgotten not long after viewing. Why?

I believe that the "creep-scare" genre succeeds largely on the merits of its twisted visuals. The first time I saw "The Ring" or "In The Mouth Of Madness", I walked away with unsettling images burned into my mind that haunted me for a long time. These images worked because I'd never seen anything like them before.

The Possession doesn't exactly rip off images already used in older films, but it still does little more than create "variations on a theme". They didn't quite dig deep enough into the twisted hidden corners of the mind to bring up new and truly bizarre images to share.

One variant I enjoyed was the use of Jewish folklore as a backdrop for the supernatural myths of the movie, rather than the same old Roman Catholic backdrop. Something I found interesting, however, was how little this change affected the plot, and how similar the battle between "religious folks" and demons was in this movie, compared to any other exorcism movie.

Once again, despite the religious overtones, it never quite seems to be God who is defeating evil, but people. (Hmm. On second thought, maybe what seemed to be God's lack of involvement explains the final frames of the movie...) Rather than an obvious, prayerful appeal to God to intervene, the Rabbi (at least I think he was a Rabbi) in conflict with the demon uses a series of objects, ingredients and personal items collected from the main characters, so their strengths will enhance the spell. Ahem! I mean "exorcism"...

In these movies, most of the time it seems you could change the dressing on these religious guys and just as easily make them into spell-casting wizards, using a collection of components and reading words from a mystic tome to get the job done. God doesn't seem to be very involved.

If anything, the Rabbis who DO bring God into the equation present his involvement as much more passive. These older, more seasoned Rabbis advise Clyde to "leave it to the will of God". Clyde angrily asks them if it were their child, would they "leave it to the will of God".

If anything, our heroes enter the final confrontation relying more on their own strength and determination than the help of God.

The Possession is one I'd recommend as a $1 rental, in which case I don't think it will disappoint. But in the meantime, you'd be better off not spending more money on a well-made but forgettable film like this one.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences

Quality: 8.0/10

Relevance: 7.0/10

What do these scores mean?

Slight Delay

It's been one of those "randomly crazy weeks" that have long come with the territory at Spirit Blade Productions. As a result, my review of "The Possession" and this week's episode of the podcast will be slightly delayed. Check back here for both to be posted sometime later this weekend.

Thanks for your patience!

-Paeter Frandsen

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Battle For Wesnoth (Video Game Review)

I've spent much of my summer looking for free games to play, most of which are MMOs that still retain some kind of money-making scheme. The alternative is open source games, which are completely free and have no money-making scheme. The problem with these games is, because they have little or no money being put into them, they tend to be low-budget, crappy affairs.

The exception to this rule, I believe, is a little game called "Battle For Wesnoth", a fantasy, turn-based strategy game in which you command your units on the field of battle in a quest to destroy the forces of evil. Fighters, elves, mages and clerics, this game has all the core fantasy character concepts you'd expect.

The graphic design has the 2-D "spritey" quality of the Super Nintendo era, but with modern, high definition that results in smoother lines and a much cleaner look. The animations are very simple, but still charming, as skeleton warriors can be seen juggling their own heads from time to time while waiting for orders.

That said, this game is far from having cutting edge graphics. When compared to modern console games... well it just doesn't remotely compare. So if that's an important part of your experience, you'll want to steer clear.

Wesnoth has better music than we have any right to expect from an open source game. Although the orchestral score uses synthetic sounds, this is true of most video game scores. The music is epic, militant or moody depending on the circumstances, and enhances the story and overall experience.

Speaking of story, while Battle For Wesnoth doesn't have the most gripping story or characters, the pacing is very well executed. Before each scenario, a part of the story plays out, mainly through the use of text accompanied by large (and beautiful) character portraits. But the game doesn't settle for a brief set up followed by a long battle. Instead, as key objectives are achieved or as new areas are discovered in the "fog of war" exploration of the map, small scenes interrupt the action to re-engage players with the story. And though I don't find the story captivating, I appreciate the effort to make the game story-driven.

Strategy board gamers and fans of Final Fantasy Tactics will probably be especially drawn to this game. The landscape is based on a hex design, with different types of terrain effecting movement in positive or negative ways, depending on the type of unit passing over them. Units are allotted a certain number of movement points and combat hits and damage are randomized by the computer after factoring the strengths and weaknesses of both units involved.

There are dozens of scenarios, both included with the game and created by other users, boasting approximately 300 hours of free gameplay! Each scenario also offers 2-3 levels of difficulty, and at least two campaigns are designed to help new players learn the game.

After one or two scenarios, everything clicks and makes sense. The game is not overly complicated, but still offers plenty of strategy. Primarily, you'll be claiming village territories, which then support your battle efforts with added gold every turn. Gold is used to recruit different types of units.
As units take part in combat, they receive experience points toward leveling up into advanced versions of their current class, or sometimes a new class if you choose to send them down a different branch of advancement.

The game also has an interesting night and day mechanic, which adjusts the combat odds for or against you and your enemies, depending on your units' alignment. (Chaotic units do better at night, lawful untis do better in the day.)

You can save the game at any given moment, making it easy to pick up and put down as you like. The game is also downloaded to your computer, so once you install it, there is no internet connection required unless you want to download additional scenarios.

I highly doubt that any spiritually worthwhile conversation or thought will be provoked by Battle For Wesnoth. I've put in well over five hours and haven't run into any interesting ideas or metaphors. This game isn't ever trying to say anything. It's purpose is to let you be the commanding hero in a battle against evil, and not much more.

The game is available for PC, Mac and Linux, and for a small fee you can get it on your i-phone (though I've heard that version is a little buggy, and besides, this is The Summer Of Free anyway).

My scoring for free games ignores the fact that they are free and treats them like any other game I've paid for. (These days, time is often more precious to me than money.) So even with what might not be considered a stellar Quality score, this game is WAAAY better than I think we have any right to expect from a free, open source game. Do yourself a favor and don't miss trying it out!

Quality: 8.5/10

Relevance: 5.0/10

Battle For Wesnoth Website

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Metropolis (Retro Movie Review)

Review By Hank Harwell

Metropolis is not the first science fiction film. According to my copy of Phil Hardy’s The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies (1984), that honor goes to the Lumiere short film “The Mechanical Butcher,” produced in 1895. It is, however, probably one of the most important science fiction films in history. Its influence is seen in many films even down to what we might call the modern era.

German film director Fritz Lang had just completed an epic six-hour film version of the Nibelungenlied that was critically as well publicly well-received. To follow up, he wanted to make a film about the future.(1) He and his (then) wife, the writer Thea von Harbou, set about working on the story of class struggle that would become the core of Metropolis. When he and von Harbou and producer Erich Pommer traveled to New York to promote Die Nibelungen, he saw for the first time New York City and the visual look of the film took root. From aboard the steamship Deutschland, he “saw a street lit as if in full daylight by neon lights, and topping them oversized luminous advertisements moving, turning, flashing on and off, spiraling…something which was completely new and nearly fairy-tale-like for a European in those days, and this impression gave me the first thought for a town of the future.”(2)

The film took 16 months or more to produce (Phil Hardy notes that this was in a time when it usually only took a few weeks to shoot a film), involving over 36,000 actors and extras, 200 thousand costumes and sets involving 5-600 70-story skyscrapers at a cost of about 7 million Reichsmarks (it was originally budgeted at 800,000 Reichsmarks).(3)

The film was released in 1926 in Berlin and ran for about four months, resulting in a paltry box office of 75,000 Reichsmarks. This bankrupted the studio and led the American distribution partners, Paramount Studios, to demand drastic changes.(4) The film was edited down from 17 reels to 10 reels for the US distribution (70 minutes of film were removed). The argument was that American theater managers wanted to be able to show multiple screenings of a film in a day and therefore make more money.(5) The original edit of the film was considered lost until 2008 when a 16mm duplicate print was found in Argentina and restorers were able to reassemble the missing pieces with the help of the original musical score, censor cards and other documents. The most complete version possible, then was released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2010.

The film is a pretty standard tale of class struggle in the year 2026. The super wealthy live high above the streets of Metropolis in their gleaming skyscrapers while the laborers live underground and work at the machines that keep the city running. There are some absolutely haunting sequences of laborers at the shift change trudging either toward or away from the elevators that take them to the machine rooms, and another establishing shot of workers at the controls of the main machine for the city, moving rhythmically, as if they are parts of the machine themselves.

The story focuses on the son of the Master of Metropolis, Freder. He is a carefree young man shown at play with his peers at the sports arena, or flirting with the girls at the Eternal Gardens. Suddenly, he is confronted by a beautiful, serene young woman leading a group of bedraggled children into the Eternal Gardens and telling the children, “These are your brothers.” Just as suddenly, she is ushered out. When Freder asks about her, he is told she is only a daughter of one of the workers. Intrigued, he pursues her, until he comes into contact with the machine rooms and witnesses the soul-crushing conditions of the work place. Going to his father, Joh Frederson, Freder attempts to get some relief for the workers, but is ignored. At that point, Freder decides to join the workers and work in the machine rooms.

Freder later learns that the young woman, Maria, is a sort of leader to the workers preaching restraint and a message that one day a “Mediator” will come that will join the Head of Metropolis with its Hands. Freder’s father engages the scientist-inventor Rotwang to use his newly invented robot to infiltrate the workers disguised as Maria to keep them under control. The scene where Rotwang transforms the robot into the image of Maria is another one of the iconic sequences in film, and inspired the lab of Dr. Frankenstein in the James Whale version of Frankenstein.

Those who take issue with the overuse of CGI in films today will find the practical effects in Metropolis amazing, especially for their ability to transform a massive machine into the image of an idol of the god Moloch. The miniature city sets are breath-taking as well.

There is a great deal of biblical imagery present in the film. We see Freder at the nearly abandoned cathedral, imagining statues of the Seven Deadly Sins coming to life, and a figure of Death menacing him. The Robot-Maria performs a sultry dance at a nightclub, finishing by reclining on a couch in a pose that is reminiscent of the image of Babylon from the book of Revelation. The overall message of the film also has some religious overtones: “The mediator between the brain and the hands must be the heart.” Most critics find this message the hardest part of the film to swallow. In fact, H. G. Wells called it ‘quite the silliest film,’ and even director Fritz Lang himself revealed in a 1959 interview that he didn’t like the story. However, in a later interview he conceded that in talking with young people about “what they miss in a computer-guided establishment, the answer is always: ‘The heart!’ So, probably Thea von Harbou…was right and I was wrong.”(6)

As much as it pains me to say this, given my love for this film, it is not perfect. The acting, in places, is almost laughable, especially from that of Gustav Froehlich (who played Freder), and through eyes jaded by a sex-obsessed culture, Robot-Maria’s dance at the club isn’t that seductive. Having said that, the actress who played Maria, a young Brigitte Helm in her first role, does well in the dual role, especially as the Robot version of herself. The other actors who played Freder’s father and the inventor Rotwang are far more understated and their performances and therefore that much more powerful.

Metropolis is a visually stunning piece of filmmaking achievement that has its flaws. Its influence is visible on everything from the afore mentioned Frankenstein to Dr. Strangelove and from Star Wars to Blade Runner. The plot is pretty threadbare, and despite the biblical and supernatural imagery rampant in the film, the storytelling just doesn’t completely match up with its visuals. Using Paeter’s review system, I’d give Metropolis a 9 in quality and 7.5 in relevance. The visuals are just that good that they overcome a lot of the weaknesses in the story.

I’d recommend either purchasing the Restored Metropolis (2010) or catching it in on Netflix or Hulu, or if you can’t do that, another personal favorite version of mine is the Giorgio Moroder version from 1984 that incorporates a 1980’s rock soundtrack. Its not as complete, but the film is just as fun.

Quality: 9.0/10

Relevance: 7.5/10

1 Documentary: “The Fading Image”
2 Introduction, Harbou, Thea. Metropolis. Norfolk: Donning Co./Publishers, 1988.
3 Documentary: “Voyage to Metropolis”
4 Ibid.
5. “The Fading Image”
6 Introduction

Follow More Of Hank's Thought On His Blog

Monday, August 27, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 28:1-15

v. 1-2

With God's help, Paul, his fellow prisoners, and the soldiers guarding them, all survived the destruction of their ship, arriving at the Island of Malta. The ESV's references to "native" people and "gathering sticks to start a fire" may give the impression that these were uncivilized people. But in actuality, Malta was not considered primitive. Roman citizens and retired soldiers were among those who lived there, and anyone who did not speak Greek was considered "barbaric" by the people of Malta.


Paul's miraculous survival of a viper bite is just another reminder that God's plans will not be thwarted. God said Paul would testify about him in Rome, and so he was going to Rome. It's possible this is even what Paul was thinking about when bitten, as we don't see him panicking or being concerned at all. He simply shakes the viper off and moves on with his day.

(As a side note, it was this passage that inspired me to create the concept of being "protected by prophecy", as Merikk is in the Spirit Blade audio dramas. Merikk is told the day of his death. So like Paul, he can survive an endless gauntlet of dangerous circumstances until that time.)


As I read about Paul healing Publius' father and the other sick people brought to him, I was struck by my own selfishness. When I've been having a bad day, or week, or sometimes even just a bad couple of minutes, I tend to settle into a mentality of entitlement. I feel like I deserve to treat myself to something nice, slack off work, or neglect my kids, my wife or household duties. I'm a bit of a "nerd-hermit", and often prefer to be alone. And if I've been socializing a lot (or what feels like a lot to me), I feel entitled to spend time by myself for awhile.

But Paul never seemed to lose perspective on his moment-by-moment purpose: to share the truth and love of Christ with others. Paul had been wrongly imprisoned, had been hungry, exhausted and shipwrecked. Even on the safety of Malta, he was still a prisoner in the custody of Roman soldiers. Yet he still gives time and energy to the people around him.


The rest of Paul's journey to Rome was uneventful compared to what had come before. After winter they set sail and made good time to Rome.

Christians were still very rare in Rome at this time. But when some Christians living more than 30 and 40 miles from Rome heard of Paul's arrival, they came out to be with him, providing encouragement and comfort.

This is another passage that challenges me. Who knows what these Roman Christians put on hold or left behind to travel 30 miles to be with Paul? Do I do this? Am I really willing and ready to take action, get outside of my routine or comfort zone, and make time to support and invest in other Christians who need it? And I'm not just talking about financial giving to missionaries and the poor or being a good listener. (Not that I'm downplaying the value of either.) These Christians couldn't help Paul with money anyway. But they left their homes, likely taking time off work, disrupting their lives to go and encourage Paul.

Sometimes all we can or should do is pray for others . And prayer is vital. God moves in response to prayer. But other times action is called for. Action that may have a cost in time, comfort or finances. Which means it's time for me to pray one of those "scary prayers":

God, help me to be willing and ready to step out of my comfort to serve and encourage other believers.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rift Jump Interview and Dr. Horrible Review (SBU Podcast)

Friday, August 24, 2012 8:23 PM

An interview with Christian sci-fi author Greg Mitchell, and a review of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.



I'd love for you to be a part of this podcast!

Submit Questions, Comments or Content(written or audio file) to:



call 206-350-1226 and leave a message for me to play on the show!

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Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (Web Series Review)

Review By Ken From Honolulu

Dr. Horribles Sing along Blog made in 2008

Directed and written by Joss Whedon
Staring Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Horrible
Nathan Fillion as Capt. Hammer
Felicia Day as Penny

Synopsis: An aspiring super-villain must balance his career and his pursuit of a beautiful do-gooder.

This is a movie written and directed by Joss Whedon. He has done Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and many others. If you have never seen a Joss Whedon movie or TV show you might as well throw your scifi geek card away because you can’t be a scifi geek if you have never seen his stuff.

This film, believe it our not, is a scifi musical. There is a lot of singing, some dancing. It all works to make the film good. Some of the tunes are catchy and fun to try to sing along with. This is a fun film.
In the typical Joss Whedon style, it has a very unusual plot line. The plot line is basically Dr. Horrible is just a minor bad guy who has a sidekick he calls moist man. The reason he calls him that is because the guy sweats like no one you have ever seen. Dr. Horrible is trying to get on to the super villains council that is lead by Dark Horse, who is actually a horse.

He tries to do all of these evil deeds to get him onto the council. In the meantime he has his public persona as Billy, just a normal guy. He meets Penny at the laundromat and falls madly in love with her. Of course she doesn’t know he is in love with her. There are lots of songs and lots of singing during the movie.

Penny falls in love with Nathan Fillion who plays Capt. Hammer. Nathan Fillion played the captain of the Firefly and is currently Richard Castle in the TV show Castle. It is fun to watch him sing and dance as he is going along stopping Dr. Horrible. For those of us who are older, think of him as Underdog. “Here I am to save the day.” Or even Mighty Mouse, the kind of hero person.

A lot of times when Dr. Horrible has done his evil deeds Penny shows up. He wants her to fall in love with him, and keeps telling her he is just a nice guy.

The film is fun, well filmed and easy to watch. I won’t give away the ending because that is the best part.

There is a lot to discuss about the good versus evil type of thing and the mental state of the hero and bad guy.

Quality: 8.0/10

Relevance: 6.5/10

What do these scores mean?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Voicemail For Podcast!

As of this week there's a new way to record and leave a message for The Spirit Blade Underground podcast, and it's easier than ever!

At The Spirit Blade Underground, you'll see a tab on the right side of the page that you can click to open. Then with one touch of a button, you can use the microphone on your computer to record and send a message I can play on the show!

(In some cases you may have to "allow" this function by changing your browser settings, but even this is done easily by using the hyperlink to your flash settings included in the voice mail tool itself. I'm computer stupid and it was easy-peasy for me! Just two extra clicks!)

Send me feedback on the show, submit a review or segment of your own, or just say hi! I'd love to hear from you!

-Paeter Frandsen

Monday, August 20, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 27:1-44

You might notice that the pronoun "we" appears again. Luke, the author of Acts, was likely nearby for much of what happened to Paul since the last mention of "we" in Chapter 21, but he officially joined Paul on his journey to Rome at this point.

There are a number of locations mentioned that I won't go into detail about, but I'll still share a few details I found helpful to look up and sort out.

"Augustan" was an honorary term known to be attached to military personnel. And a cohort represented about 500-1000 soldiers. So Paul was handed over to a centurion named Julius, from an elite or honored military company. The centurion had some soldiers with him, but we aren't told exactly how many (v.1)

Centurion, soldiers, Luke, Paul, sailors and other prisoners, all set sail on a non-military commercial vessel. Aristarchus is also mentioned to be along for the ride. He is mentioned to be a part of Paul's travels earlier (19:29, 20:4) and may have made himself a voluntary prisoner of Rome in order to accompany Paul. This possibility, along with the care Paul was given by friends at Sidon, reminds me that the Christian life is not a loner's journey, but one meant to be supported by self-sacrificing relationships with others. (v.2-3)

A "lee" is a wind shelter. So Paul and company were sailing close to Cyprus to avoid the heavy winds common this time of year, which also resulted in a slower journey. (v.4)

The slow-going journey continues and increases in challenge as they fight the winds and change ships. "The Fast" refers to "The Day Of Atonement", which falls in a time of year that became increasingly difficult to sail, due to weather.

Paul tried to warn Julius that the journey was putting both passengers and cargo in serious danger, but Julius didn't give much weight to this "religious criminal" and went with the pilot and majority instead, who wanted to press on rather than spend a difficult winter in their current harbor. (v.5-12)

Things momentarily looked better, but soon got even worse than before, with winds blowing the ship out of control. They were even in danger of losing the ship's "boat". The "boat" referred to in verse 16 is a life-boat/maneuvering boat used for docking. Often ancient ships dragged these small boats behind them, but the storm became strong enough that they had to secure theirs on deck. (v.13-16)

They soon found themselves out of control and needing to throw the cargo overboard. On top of this, the clouds covered both the sun and stars for days, removing any ability they had to determine where they were. In a time long before any modern navigation tools, these were all indicators that the sea would once again add lives to the countless it had already claimed. (v.17-20)

The men on the ship were without hope, and without food in their stomachs (likely due to sea-sickness). But Paul explained that God had just promised him that every man who sails with him will survive the journey. Once again, despite his circumstances, Paul was reminded of God's promise for him to share the truth about Jesus in Rome. God had now added to that promise the protection of those sailing with Paul, and affirmed that Paul would specifically appear before Caesar. (v.21-26)

Still out of control on the fourteenth night of travel, the sailors suspected they were close enough to land to risk an escape from the ship, though did so secretly since the small maneuvering boat wouldn't hold everyone.

Paul caught them in the act and warned Julius and the soldiers to stop them or risk injury or danger of some kind. (God's promise did not rule out injury, and as you might guess, sailors are a critical part of successfully running a ship.) But the soldiers cut the boat away and let the sailors go, probably to avoid placing their own lives in further danger. (v.27-32)

At this point, the men had not eaten for a very long time. But in order to get to land without the sailors' help, they would need everyone as strong and alert as possible. Paul's courage, in light of God's promises, allowed him the stomach to eat and his courage became contagious as the other men ate as well.

With some of their strength restored, they were able to lighten the ship's load further and saw some land. Then it was "all or nothing" time. They ditched the anchors, let loose the rudders, caught the wind and rammed that ship straight into the land. The front of the ship wedged itself into the ground and the back half started breaking up from the sheer force of the waves. (Anyone else think this would make a good movie? Wow!) (v.33-41)

Any "all for one and one for all" attitude that might have held together while in survival mode nearly fell apart, though. The soldiers, rather than risk punishment for letting prisoners escape (and now would be a GREAT time!), nearly started killing them all. But Julius stopped them, and coordinated the evacuation so that every man on board lived to tell the tale. (v.42-44)

A few things strike me about this passage overall. The first is the detail Luke offers in his description. Ports, ships, names and dates. Despite the epic nature of this story, it is not written in the style of any legendary myths of this time period. It's filled with real historical details that Luke expected his audience to be familiar with and able to verify. Anyone trying to label the book of Acts as legendary fiction has the best evidence working against them.

The other thing that strikes me is Paul's faith and character. Even if I had just received a miraculous vision promising my survival, in the light of massive, overpowering waves and dozens of panicked people, I'd be second-guessing whatever vision I saw. But Paul trusted that every detail of God's promise would be fulfilled, without compromise or exception.

And not only did Paul's faith carry him through a terrifying situation, but it was a source of inspiration and encouragement that very tangibly helped those around him.

There is always room for questions in our faith, and God expects our doubts and that we will voice them (as my time in the Psalms has reminded me lately). But as God proves himself through either evidence or action, our willingness to trust him with the remaining unknowns and "storms" of life should be growing in response.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

David N. Alderman And Batman Earth One (SBU Podcast)

Thursday, August 16, 2012 11:12 AM

Interview With David N Alderman, Christian author of the Black Earth series. We talk a little about his latest book and then compare notes on being an independent Christian artist.

Ben Avery brings us his review of the Batman: Earth One story intended to re-establish Batman's origin for new DC Comics readers.

We continue our look at the book of Acts with chapter 26:24-32, where Paul reminds us about the role of the thinking mind in relationship to faith.



I'd love for you to be a part of this podcast!

Submit Questions, Comments or Content(written or audio file) to:



call 206-350-1226 and leave a message for me to play on the show!

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Batman Earth One (Comic Book Review)

Review by Ben Avery 

Here’s what the critics have to say about Batman Earth One, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank:

“. . . new, breathtaking . . .” – Brad Meltzer, important writer guy

“. . . the right stewardship . . . awesome . . .” – David Goyer, big time movie writer

“Original, surprising and emotional . . . must-read . . .” – Damon Lindelof, co-creator of the best TV show to ever be on TV and the guy who made Prometheus less alien-y

“Sigh . . .” – Ben Avery, stranger and alien

I really had high hopes for Batman Earth One. Maybe too high?

DC Comics’ Earth One series is, in concept, perfect: High quality, hardcover graphic novels, telling a stand alone story that takes the classic character and starts fresh with a new story. The characters still exist in the regular comic series that come out every month, but the Earth One graphic novels are for fans of the characters who don’t want to be bogged down by all the continuity that comes with thousands of back issues.

It’s such a great idea, that Marvel immediately copied it with their series of “Season One” hardcover graphic novels. That copying, of course, probably had something to do with Superman Earth One, the first in DC’s series, becoming a bestseller. As in New York Times bestseller.

But while Marvel has managed, since Superman Earth One came out, to churn out five Season One graphic novels, DC seemed to be taking their time. Part of that may be due to the New 52, which rebooted many of their characters, including Superman. Part of that may be because they were concerned about quality and not rushing the job. Part of that may be that they used super popular and super talented creators for their Earth One books (Superman is by J. Michael Stracynski) Part of that may be because the second character to get the Earth One treatment is Batman, and synergy being what it is – wanted to release this new Batman graphic novel to coincide with, oh, I don’t know, a big budget summer tentpole movie or something.

I really enjoyed Superman Earth One (you can read my review here: ). And when I heard Geoff Johns was writing this one – a writer who is worshipped by some for his work on titles like Flash, Green Lantern, and Justice League and who finally gave Aquaman exploits and a characterization that regular people AND fans of the king of the seven seas could appreciate and enjoy – I thought I’d enjoy Batman Earth One just as much.

I was wrong.

Batman Earth One strains to make the familiar story of Batman’s origin something new. But that’s the problem: it can’t be. It’s one of, if not THE, most well known origin story in comics. Spider-Man: bit by a mutated spider. Superman: rocketed to earth to escape his home world’s destruction. Batman: parents killed by a criminal, so he devoted his life to fighting crime.

All that can be done is to put a new spin on it or change it. And when Batman Earth One does this, it fails. It bounces back and forth between repeating things we’ve already seen before, changing things to make them new and fresh, and trying to update things we’ve already seen before by making them edgier and darker.

Perhaps I’m being harsh when I say it fails. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it just doesn’t succeed. Geoff Johns gets the unenviable task of taking a series of iconic moments and trying to make it feel like we haven’t seen it before.

So we get changes: Alfred didn’t serve the family as their butler, he served with Thomas Wayne in a desert war; Gordon isn’t the upstanding cop fighting an uphill battle, he’s a cop bowing to criminal threats; Martha Wayne isn’t the heir to the Kane cosmetics empire, she’s part of the Arkham family; Joe Chill’s crime against the Wayne family was as a hired hitman specifically targeting Thomas Wayne.

I don’t mind changes. If you’ve read Flashpoint, I’d love to talk with you about that alternate universe – the changes there were surprising and interesting. And some changes I liked. Penguin is exactly the take I would have expected Christopher Nolan’s in his realistic Batman universe. Barbara Gordon is a breath of fresh air, and Gordon’s love for her is nice to see. Bruce fumbling as Batman the first few times he goes out is humorous, and there’s just enough of it not to get annoying. And a couple things happen, lasting consequences of people’s actions, that could never be done in the regular series . . . without being undone in a year or two.

Two other problems that I didn’t have with Superman Earth One, and both problems are related: first, there are too many characters running around, getting introduced, and vying for “screen time”. Second, a lot of this book felt like set up for the sequel. Characters pop in, get introduced, and do things that have no repercussions for the plot . . . in THIS book. I would have liked a more streamlined cast.

Now, the artwork? I have NO complaints there. None. It is a beautifully drawn book, full of quiet, character moments in some panels, and awesome, action-packed splash pages and double page splashes.

I give it a quality score of 8.

On the relevance side, there many themes in the book that arise from just being a Batman book. Bruce’s story arc alone hints at ideas of justice verses vengeance, as he seeks the murderer of his parents, and commitment to your cause, which sees just how far he will go in pursuit of justice. It’s interesting, because on one hand he seems to go too far, but on the other hand that is portrayed as a positive thing. Jim Gordon’s arc has him dealing with the consequences of his decisions, as he knows right and wrong  but is forced by outside pressures to do wrong. I didn’t feel sympathy for him, because it seemed to me he could have just walked away to protect his family instead of compromising himself. Penguin is there to be a nasty bad guy – and he IS NASTY. Not Batman Returns perverted, but ugly evil nasty. Alfred is there as a support, but ends up taking a more proactive role in caring for Bruce than I expected, as he acts as father figure, sidekick, and protector. But the changes to the character make it less poignant.

All these themes are common in superhero fiction, although this one explores them with a darker view than is commonly seen.

I give it a relevance score of 7, mainly because these things are there, but only as background elements. Some of these elements are brought to the foreground, but it feels like when they are it’s only to use the negative to show the positive.

If this was the only Batman origin story out there, I probably wouldn’t judge it so harshly. But it’s not. This story has been told, and told often, and told in better ways. I will read a volume two of this series, and maybe when read together with some pay off to the set ups, I’ll enjoy it more.

But that’s not the way a stand-alone graphic novel should be. You should be able to read this and just enjoy it for what it is, not for what the next one is going to be. So I can’t give Batman Earth One a high recommendation.

Relevance: 7/10

See more of what Ben is up to at Strangers And Aliens!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 26:24-32

Festus, who did not believe in Yahweh (God's personal name, given to Moses), told Paul that all of his learning had made him crazy. (This was a statement commonly made to philosophers of this time period who claimed to believe in things the listener found outlandish.)

Paul asserted the opposite: that his words were rational and true, based on events and teaching that could be openly observed, examined and tested. (v.24-26)

Paul then cuts to the heart of the issue by asking Agrippa whether or not he really believes in the Scriptures (meaning the Tanakh, or "Old Testament"). If Agrippa doesn't, Paul's argument is a waste of time (not to mention Agrippa probably wouldn't appear to make a very good Jewish king!). If he does, the logical consequence, given what the scriptures had already revealed about the Messiah, would be to believe that Jesus is God's unique Son and that all Paul has said is true. (v.27)

Over the years, as I've interacted with non-believers in the sci-fi fan community, I've run into a number of atheists who speak very sarcastically and harshly about Christianity and the claims of the Bible. If you've spent any time with the sci-fi community (especially online where everyone is more "brave" with their words), you've probably run into some folks like that, too.

It's been said that the most significant difference between Christianity and every other religion in existence is the idea of grace. Specifically, that we do not "earn" our forgiveness and passage into heaven for eternity.

I would add to this that Christianity is the only faith that invites and encourages investigation of it's truth claims, from beginning to end. This isn't to say that every point of curiosity you might come up with has an available answer. But there is not a single point at which Christianity says "don't ask that question" to those considering the validity of its truth claims. There is no point at which the Bible says "stop using your mind and just have faith". Every other religon I can think of, at some point, prohibits or looks down upon a logical investigation of its claims.

We see this aspect of Paul's faith played out here, as he asks his listeners, not to "follow their hearts", or pray for a spiritual experience, but to examine the evidence and base their conclusions on the information available.

Some circles of Christianity have forgotten about passages like these, encouraging non-believers or struggling believers to "just have faith". This is partially why, in atheist and secular circles, Christians have a reputation for checking their brains at the door. But there is no reason for this stereotype to persist unchallenged if we remember, as Paul did, that the truth claims of the Bible are at their best when under thorough examination.

There is dispute over whether Agrippa's response is a sarcastic dismissal of Paul's question or an admission that Paul's argument is convincing. Either way, Paul expresses his heart. That everyone listening to his words would become a follower of Christ like him. (v.28-29)

When Festus, Agrippa and his sister had a moment in private, they all agreed that Paul hadn't done anything to deserve execution, as the Jewish leaders were requesting. In fact Agrippa, armed with his knowledge of Jewish law, said that if Paul hadn't appealed to Caesar, he would be a free man. (v.30-32)

We might cringe and say, "Oooh, Paul! You should have kept your mouth shut about Caesar!" But in fact, Paul now had free transportation and an audience before the highest authority and most influential office in the world, before whom he could explain who Jesus is.

Jesus said Paul would testify about him in Rome. Not only are we seeing this come true, but Paul's ticket is paid for and Paul has an appointment to talk to the most important person in the Roman empire.

No matter how many times I remember that God's agenda may not be my agenda, I forget twice as often. I become discouraged when my day, my week or my life isn't playing out like I think it's supposed to. But once again, hopefully for a little longer this time, this passage reminds me of the truth. Yahweh may not do things the way we think he should, but we can trust that he gets things done better than anyone else.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Grove City Blader

My vacation is getting off to a great start. I wasn't planning on doing any posting, but a conversation with my bro-in-law today compelled me  to post.

See, I'm visiting my wife's family right now in Grove City, Pennsylvania, a small town 1 hour north of Pittsburgh. My relatives have told me stories now and then that they heard someone in town has heard of Spirit Blade Productions. My sister-in-law down at the comic store a couple of times. And just today my bro-in-law Frank said he saw someone wearing a Spirit Blade t-shirt, standing outside the Pepperidge Farm store at the outlet mall.

Now, from my perspective, as big as my aspirations are for Spirit Blade Productions, we're a pretty tiny little endeavor. So I'm surprised that somebody that just happens to live in the same small town as my in-laws has heard of us. (For awhile I accused by bro-in-laws of doing some street marketing for me, but they claim they haven't.)

So my curiosity is burning out of control, now. And I'm posting this in a strange "reverse-stalker" effort to track down this mysterious "Grove City Blader". 

If you are "The Grove City Blader" and you are not a sicko serial killer, I'd love to buy you coffee or dessert while I'm here! We fly out on Monday the 13th (just over a week from now) and my schedule 'till then is pretty wide open. If you're interested, shoot me an e-mail at paeter(at)spiritblade(dot)net and let me know. (You'll get an auto-respond message saying I'm away from my office, but I'll be checking about once a day for a message from you.)

If, on the other hand, you are smart enough to not talk to strangers (or strange podcasters who track down their listeners), feel no pressure to get in touch. Just wanted you to know that "I know you're out there" and "thanks for listening"!

-Paeter Frandsen

Friday, August 3, 2012

Total Recall Review (SBU Podcast)

 Friday, August 03, 2012 3:24 PM

A review of the Total Recall remake, a double review of the PC games Awakening 1&2, and some more Summer Of Free goodness!



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Total Recall (Movie Review)

Total Recall is the futuristic story of Douglas Quaid, a man tired with the monotony of his life, longing for adventure and significance. Although it involves some risk, he visits the Rekall company, who specialize in giving people memories of whatever fantasy they may desire.

Quaid chooses the "secret double-agent" package, but just before the procedure begins, a pre-existing set of memories are discovered in his subconscious, in which Quaid really is a double agent. Suddenly, Quaid is being hunted by those he thought loved him most, and is meeting others who know who he was before being brainwashed into a mundane life.

The story twists and turns as what even the audience thinks they know about Quaid is turned around. And amidst the sci-fi action and adventure, we wonder what is real right alongside Douglas Quaid.

Although comparisons will naturally be made to the early 90's Schwarzenegger film, it's really apples and oranges we're talking about. (Similar to the 1980's "Dune" movie and the 2000 TV miniseries on the Sci-fi Channel.) This movie is more a "re-imagining" than a remake. It only shares the barest skeleton of the original movie's plot and uses some of the same character names and beats. No Mars, no mutants, no Johnny Cab and no Austrian body-builders.

Although the bar isn't set very high in the action/sci-fi genre, the performances by all are very good. And a few nice touches by star Colin Farrel make sure that Quaid is easier to sympathize with and relate to this time around.

Although the difference isn't strong, this film doesn't allow for as much second-guessing about what is real and what is not, compared to the original movie. Although it had a couple of scenes that were designed to cast doubt on the reality of what was happening to Quaid, I felt much more confident that the movie was not all a dream Quaid was experiencing. By contrast, the first film had enough loose ends remaining (including an ending that raises eyebrows even more) that it was nearly equally viable to assume the movie was all a dream .

The visual effects and action sequences were great. Scores of robots, flying cars and crazy elevator platform jumping that would make any classic gamer sweat. Weapons and gadgets are also conceptually interesting and fun to see in action.

There are a few moments that don't make sense. A "three-breasted woman" makes a cameo, an obvious reference to the original movie but strange to include here given the absence of any mutants in this film. There are also a few bits of dialogue that are difficult to make out, and a victory achieved by the good guys near the end that I'm not sure I understand logistically.

The main themes of relevance in this movie are the nature of reality, memories and personal identity. And though I don't think this movie is as likely to trigger contemplation as the original movie, it still has some points worth pondering.

When Quaid enters Rekall, the doctor there emphasizes how real the memories will be. Quaid answers that "any illusion, no matter how convincing, is still an illusion". The doctor says that, objectively, Quaid is correct, but that subjectively the opposite is true. This stance is different from the one taken by The Matrix, which seems to conclude that reality is defined by subjective perception.

However, later in Total Recall, a character clearly meant to be expressing truth says that the past is only a construct of our minds, and that only who we are in the present matters. There may be some truth to this idea, in a sense, but I'm inclined to agree with Quaid when he says "the past tells us who we've become". There is value to "living in the moment", but past thoughts and actions still influence who we are today. Even if we were suddenly unable to remember them, we are no less responsible for past actions than a drunk driver who doesn't remember killing four people in an accident. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the belief that we are nothing more than the sum of our memories, in which case someone who forgets his past actions is no longer responsible for them.

This movie sometimes seems to want to say that we are more than the sum of our memories, but never really commits to the idea consistently, and hurries back to explosions and flying cars before getting into the topic too deeply. From a biblical perspective, we are more than just biology and chemically recorded memories. We are spirit as well. And even though we will one day leave our bodies behind, we will still be held responsible for our lives. (Having said that, there are still many factors to consider and places you can still go with this topic, and the movie can serve as an easy starting point for that discussion.)

For sci-fi fans, this one shouldn't be missed. It's a great sci-fi action ride that could have been improved by being a little more cerebral, but you'll probably be glad if you don't wait to rent it. It's also got some real potential for contemplation about the nature of personhood. An easy way to start a potentially valuable conversation with a geek buddy.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language.

Quality: 9.0/10

Relevance: 8.5/10

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Awakening 1&2: The Dreamless Castle & Moonfell Wood (Game review)

Review By ComiKate

The Dreamless Castle & Moonfell Wood are the first and second parts of the now three-part Awakening series, by Big Fish Games.

The Awakening series belongs to the Hidden Object game genre, which means that at least part of your time is spent looking for, well, hidden objects. Other recurring elements are puzzles and searching beautiful locations for certain clues. In this type of game there is no time constraint, you cannot die, nor is there a multi player mode. Instead, it is all about a fun, relaxed entertainment experience.

In short, the target audience is probably more of a casual gamer, or gamers who cannot or will not spend days and days immersed in one game and like to finish what they start in one afternoon or evening. Also, gamers who don’t want to spend a lot of money, or gamers who like to play lots of different games, or simply don’t know how RPGs, MMOs and first person shooters work and don’t care (or dare) to learn.

Within the Hidden Object game genre, Awakening can be considered a hidden object adventure.

In the first part of the series, The Dreamless Castle, you are Sophia, a young woman who wakes up after a long, long sleep to find herself alone inside a castle in a world devoid of people. With the help of clues, mysteriously hidden objects and an occasional goblin she has to find her way out of the castle.

Although the game clearly references the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty, it does not follow that plot in any way. Yes, there is a sleeping beauty at the very beginning, but she wakes up, and not because some knight in shining armor came to give her a kiss of life! In that sense I guess The Dreamless Castle could be considered “an alternative ending” to the traditional fairytale, which I have to say has been done very well and has kept me interested throughout the game.

Part two, Moonfell Wood, is a separate game, that starts where The Dreamless Castle left off: you are still the very resourceful Sophia, you have just escaped the castle and you are now about to embark on a new adventure: finding your way through the mysterious Moonfell Wood.

Although the plot of The Dreamless Castle is interesting in itself, Moonfell Wood is even better, in that it felt more integrated and more consistent. The story is more elaborate, the puzzles are more interesting, and the game lets you travel from night time to day time (and back to night time again) in cleverly unexpected ways. Both The Dreamless Castle and Moonfell Wood contain elements that may be interesting for (at least some) geeks, like fairies, goblins, mythological creatures and magic, and of course the implicit occasional reference to Sleeping Beauty. The scenery is beautiful enough, the problems interesting to solve and the music is fitting for a fairytale – dreamy and mysterious.

Of course the hidden object game graphics are generally nowhere near as sophisticated as RPGs and shooters for PC, Xbox, Playstation or some such – but then again, this is reflected in their price points: the average hidden object game costs 10-15 dollars at the very most; lots of them are even below the 10 dollar price point.

Most games are available both for Mac/PC, iPad and iPhone.

I’ve played several hidden object games myself, and to me the Awakening series belongs to the better ones in spite of the occasional too simple puzzle; mostly based on plot, graphics and general atmosphere.

It took me about 4 hours to finish The Dreamless Castle, and about 6 hours for Moonfell Wood.
If you want to try any of them out, you can go to the bigfishgames website and try the first hour of each game for free. Furthermore, I have never had to pay the full price for any of their games because of their many special offers, so if you’re willing to bide your time and wait for the right moment, you could save some money and get a game for 5-7 dollars.

I give both games together a quality score of 8 and a relevance score of 7 – because of the mythological creatures, and also because it could be argued that there is a very subtle messianic symbolism present throughout the story, in the form of Sophia, who is the only non-magical (“sinless”?) creature in the game and is considered the long-awaited saviour by every magical creature in the realm, born to expell the darkness and bring the light.

Quality: 8.0/10

Relevance: 7.0/10

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