Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Justice League: Doom (Movie Review)

I'm a big DC comics nerd, and although the DC direct to video animated movies got off to a bumpy "hit or miss" start with me, they soon seemed to iron out quality control and began putting out great features almost every time.

Almost without exception, they've earned a "buy then try" mentality from me. So it should come as no surprise that bought the BluRay version of "Justice League: Doom" this week and watched it as soon as possible.

The script is loosely based on a Justice League comic book story written by Mark Waid and titled "Tower Of Babel". In it, a villain gains access to secret files detailing foolproof methods of defeating each member of the Justice League. One by one the world's most powerful and iconic heroes are taken out like the trash with brutal efficiency.

The same premise is used in "Justice League:Doom", although the Justice League characters involved are different, as well as the methods used to defeat them and the villains carrying out the evil plot. So whether you're familiar with the original comic book story or not, you'll find plenty of new territory being explored here. (Including a great reveal for those who never read "Tower Of Babel".)

The animation is top notch, as I've come to expect from these releases. And the casting is a welcome return to the line-up of actors who voiced these characters in their previous animated TV show incarnations. Nathan Fillion also returns as Green Lantern Hal Jordan in a performance with much more charm and personality than he had room to express in "Green Lantern: Emerald Knights".

The visual and auditory presentation is wonderful and any DC fan is likely to get a kick out of the experience.

The script is of a less consistent quality, however. Although I affirm Dwayne McDuffie's immense value as a human being, and regret the pain his loved ones must still be feeling after his death last year, his creative work has been hit or miss with me. His writing on the Justice League animated series was fantastic and fit the stylistic mold of the show perfectly. His comic book writing in the DC Universe has been easily forgettable.

The script for "Justice League: Doom" wanders back and forth between sophisticated and childish. Serious themes including suicide, guilt and betrayal are juxtaposed with cheesy villain lines (such as the chummy unison champagne toast of the villains: "To the Legion of Doom!") and glaringly unscientific moments (such as Superman talking in the vacuum of space, and rockets making the trip to the sun in about 90 seconds). Even most modern DC comic books don't come across as childish and ignorant.

Perhaps these issues wouldn't be a problem if the script had been more consistently light and aimed at a younger audience. But standing next to the many serious and sobering moments and the generally grown-up tone of the story and visual style, they feel out of place.

A major theme of this story that's worth talking about, is power and what happens when it is mixed with human nature. Should a force dedicated to good, like the Justice League or another real-world organization, be free to act without accountability? If not, who should have the power to stop them and who will keep THAT person accountable? The BluRay includes several interesting documentaries, one of which explores this theme.

I think that this story serves as a great counter the the argument that people are "basically good". (If we ARE, then why do we feel the need to set up checks and balances for our leaders? Are they not "basically good" too?)

I agonized over what final score I should give this movie. I think in the past I've been a little too kind in scoring these DC animated movies, since I am already a DC fan and assume that many who read my reviews may be also.

For those people, this is a movie you should see and probably add to your collection. It plays somewhat like a darker version of the Justice League animated series and if entered into with that mentality, the lighter moments likely won't put you off.

For everyone else who may just have a casual interest in the superhero genre, my final quality score aims to serve you more than Justice League fans. This one is an enjoyable flick, but you won't kick yourself later if you miss it.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action

Quality: 7.5/10

Relevance: 7.0/10

For information about my scoring system, visit
Listen to this review this weekend at

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Woohoo! Time for another BIG SALE!!

Many of you will be doing some traveling soon for spring break. Why not spice up the drive or drown out those crying babies on the airplane?

From now through Sunday, March 18th, all of our download products are 30% off at the Spirit Blade Productions Store!

Spirit Blade: Special Edition and Spirit Blade: Dark Ritual can be purchased right now for just $6.99 each! And Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream can be downloaded for just $3.49!

Download all three of our audio dramas for just $17.47! (Tax free! That's all you pay!)

You can also buy the song bundles for "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" and "Spirit Blade: Dark Ritual" for just $3.49 each!

These are some of the biggest savings you'll see all year on our products, so spread the word and don't miss out!

Monday, February 27, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 21:1-14

Taking into account the travel routes and geography mentioned here, it seems that Paul and company were still feeling a time crunch to arrive in Jerusalem by Pentecost in order to allow the gift they were bringing to express as best it could the love and support of the various churches for the Jerusalem Christians. (v.1-3, see also 20:16)

In verse 4, Luke describes how he and Paul stayed with some disciples who "through the Spirit" were telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Yet in 20:22 Paul said he was "constrained by the Spirit" to go to Jerusalem. Was the Holy Spirit sending mixed messages?

The answer might be found in observing that the phrase used in verse 4 to describe the Spirit's involvement in the words of the disciples is not Luke's usual description of prophecy, or expressing truth uniquely and directly inspired by God. (See IVP Bible background Commentary, Keener. pg.385) The original language here allows for the idea that the disciples were made aware of the suffering Paul would experience in Jerusalem and as a RESULT of this information, pleaded with him not to go. (v.4)

We see again an example of the deep relationships formed by these early Christians. Although many of these relationships were even more disconnected than our "online friendships" of today, the bond they shared through Christ led them to want to spend as much time together as possible, praying for and encouraging each other until those last moments when they finally had to go their separate ways. (v.5-6)

The tools we have to connect with and encourage other believers that we may never meet in person are readily available and so much more powerful than the long-distance communication tools of Paul's time. The example of these believers serves as a challenge for me to engage with and pray for my online friends more consistently.

After some further travel they stayed with an evangelist named Philip who had "four unmarried daughters who prophesied". It's not completely clear why their unmarried status is mentioned, but its possible that they had in some way especially dedicated themselves to God's service, choosing to remain unmarried to better serve that purpose. (v.7-9)

Secular culture is obsessed with sex. Christian culture is often obsessed with marriage and 2.5 kids. We can make the mistake of thinking that if we are not driven to find a spouse, if we are not driven to have sexual experiences, that there is something wrong with us. Some of us geeks are perfectly content to live without pursuing marriage or sex. (Yes, it's true!) And if this is the case for you, you should know that amazing good can come of the single life, whether it lasts a few years or for the rest of your days. Jesus taught that some people choose to remain single and some were even born to remain single for the sake of God's amazing purposes! (See Matthew 19:11-12)

While still with Philip, a prophet named Agabus prophesied that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem, an indication of imprisonment and suffering. Luke and the other believers begged Paul to not go to Jerusalem based on this revelation. But Paul made it clear that he had counted the cost and was ready to give his comfort, his life, everything he had in service to what the Spirit was telling him to do. Eventually, Luke and the others resigned themselves to allowing God's will to be done. (v.10-14)

As a geek and an observer of geeks, one thing I have noticed about us slightly more than in some others is that we are selfish. We've gotten used to being different and like doing things our own way in our own time, and we don't seem to be very good at putting aside our preferences and creature comforts in favor of others. Our geeky things are a safe harbor we retreat to when we've been wounded and sometimes we end up living for them without realizing it.

Paul's inspiring example stands in contrast to that mentality. It seems that none of these other believers would have blamed him for cancelling his plans to go to Jerusalem, where suffering inevitably awaited him. But Paul knew this and STILL chose to set aside his comfort and security to do what he knew God wanted him to.

As horrible as setting aside our comfort might sound, God can empower us to serve him through it if we are willing. And as we'll see in the coming passages of Acts, God may just use the opportunity to bring about something well worth the cost.

Next- Paul meets his destiny in Jerusalem

Talk about this post or connect with others Seeking Truth on our forums!

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Is The "Underground"?

That's the question I've had in mind as I've prepared to reshape this blog.

When I first started this little company, I knew that at some point after the release oLinkf a couple of projects, I would want to try and develop a community in connection with Spirit Blade Productions.

This blog was the first step in that direction, followed by the podcast, then The Spirit Blade Underground Alliance, and finally our forums. From the very beginning, the concept of an "Underground" was rooted in "community" for me. And with the changes to the blog, I'm hoping that will be more clear.

Although I will still be including project updates here, they may not be as frequent, as I make room to post my reviews here and other thoughts relevant to combining a love of Geek entertainment with a life lived for Christ.

As of now I have transplanted all of my reviews to this blog, so if you look for them you'll find them, dated just as they were on their old blog home, "Paeter's Brain". I also updated a few of the old reviews to use the category title of "Relevance" instead of "Veracity" in the philosophical portions of the reviews. And I added Quality and Relevance scores to the game and book reviews I transplanted, since my plan is to use both categories for reviews of all types from here on out, for a more consistent reader experience.

I'm also adding some new pages to the blog. One for my Brent Weeks Interview, another with a two part article about Christians enjoying "Questionable" entertainment, and soon I hope to have a page indexing and categorizing all of my reviews, including quick score references, to serve as a resource for truth-seeking Geeks.

I'm doing all of this bit by bit as I have the time, so you'll probably notice some rough edges here and there. But I welcome your feedback as I make changes, so please don't hesitate to comment!

Have a great weekend!

-Paeter Frandsen

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Search Of Truth, The "Living" Word

Hebrews 4:12- For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.(ESV)

This is a bit of an odd concept, isn't it? "What do you mean the Bible is 'alive' and reading my thoughts?"

Usually, in this weekly post, I take a look at a specific portion of scripture and give background and insight line-by-line through the text. That pattern isn't going to change, but I realize it may be helpful now and then to come out of what might seem like a more "clinical" mode and share my personal experiences with God's word.

Personal, subjective experiences should not be our benchmark for determining what is true, but provided they don't conflict with the teaching of scripture, our personal experiences can be a powerful mouthpiece for God to speak through in ways that are specifically intended for you and me as individuals.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, as some of you know, I ran into some technical problems with the podcast. And trying to solve the problem started a chain reaction of other problems I suddenly had to solve very quickly! And I am the least tech-savvy of nearly everyone I know. (Yep. I'm probably in the wrong line of work.)

I'd compare this particular problem to a certain kind of car trouble.

Imagine that you've got a car that spends the year in the northern US where the roads must be constantly salted to prevent dangerous ice slicks. As a result, everything on the underside of the car builds up more and more rust over the years. Then one day you realize that something under there has to be replaced, but when you attempt to do so, about 6 other things fall out or break and have to be replaced as well! THAT is almost exactly the kind of problem I was experiencing, except with computer/internet type stuff that my business heavily relies on. Yikes!

So a few days after it all hit the fan, near the end of my Bible study time one evening, I was just praying that God would help me to let go of this stress and my need to be in control of this situation. Just moments after that, we heard my oldest son crying in his room. He had vomited in his bed, the first of several times that night and the next morning.

So it looked like God wasn't giving me relief just yet. In fact, he was about to turn on the heat even more! By lunch the next day, both my wife and I were sick and vomiting, neither able to help the other. My parents came and took our younger son out of the house for the afternoon (he thankfully never did get sick) while our older stayed home and mostly played by himself all day while his mom and I lay helpless on our couches.

Add to all of this misery the fact that I STILL had all of these technical issues that needed to be fixed as soon as possible, and I was powerless to do ANYTHING to work on them!

Eventually, we both stopped vomiting and spent the next day getting our energy back. By the end of that day I was well enough to get back to my nightly time in the Bible, where I just so happened to arrive at Matthew 16 in my reading.

In the second half of this chapter, Peter passionately tells Jesus that he believes he really is God's unique Son, the Messiah they'd been waiting for. Just a few lines later, Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon go through torture and death. Peter effectively says, "No! We can't let that happen!" And Jesus surprisingly attributes Peter's attitude to Satan, saying "You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

After reading that I was struck with the realization that my stress over the problems I was having with work was because I thought I knew what needed to be done to most effectively serve God and his plan for my life. More than that, I was clinging to my idea of what "success" in life means without leaving room for God to correct my ideas when they are wrong.

Peter thought the same thing. He thought that for Jesus to be successful, he would need to avoid the horrible difficulties he predicted were coming. But Jesus knew that only THROUGH his own torture and death could our failures be compensated for. In the case of Jesus, success meant something that looked not just like FAILURE from a human perspective, but looked like absolute TRAGEDY.

So the rest of that week and since then I've been praying that God will help me put forth my absolute best effort for him, but also trust that his plan, which is better than any I could dream up, may be served better by things appearing to go very wrong in life.

I hope I can keep that perspective, though I'm sure God will need to teach it to me again more than once. I also hope in some way it's encouraging to you when you find things to be difficult or painful.

-Paeter Frandsen

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance (Movie Review)

Although I'm not a regular reader of the Ghost Rider comic, the concept has intrigued me over the years and I've got 20 or so back issues from two different incarnations of the series. I'm also one of the few people I know who really enjoyed the first movie, which struck me as a great improvement for director Mark Steven Johnson, compared to his earlier superhero flick, Daredevil.

I thought Nicholas Cage was an unusual choice to play Johnny Blaze, but found that his quirky sensibilities fit into the story well enough. And since I'm not a die-hard fan of the comics, I was content to see him make the role his own.

When I heard the news that a sequel would be made, I found it a little surprising, given that most I've talked to didn't seem to like the first one. But I was certainly up for another ride with Johnny Blaze, and so have looked forward to "Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance" with interest, if not rabid anticipation.

The movie picks up an undefined number of years after the first movie. Blaze had hoped to use the curse of the Ghost Rider to fight the Devil and his servants. But his plan hasn't worked out, and The Rider continues to take control of him, bringing judgment or death to nearly all he encounters.

To avoid hurting those he cares about, Blaze traveled to Europe (sorry Europe!) and is living in attempted seclusion when a monk from a mysterious order finds him and offers to remove his curse if he will protect the life of a boy named Danny, whom the Devil is tracking down for nefarious purposes.

One of the first things I noticed about this movie is the re-writing of Blaze's "origin story", which alters details for almost no reason. This proved to be an omen of things to come, as much of the script feels thrown together without purpose, as though they skipped the editing process altogether.

Dialogue is sometimes strange or confusing and numerous details seem without purpose and beg for explanation. It almost felt as if this was the sequel to an entirely different version of the first film that no one ever saw.

The editing itself also comes across as a "rush job", with "stuttering" shots attempting to add production value to a sequel with a reduced budget, and countless scenes that seem to be put together using only the first takes, before any of the actors had a chance to get into their groove.

Oddly, the script also doesn't even seem to be about the Ghost Rider, but about Danny, the boy he is trying to protect. Because Danny shares the first name of the second character to become the Ghost Rider in the comics, it may be that in a future film Johnny Blaze will hand the bike over to Danny to continue the franchise, but in the meantime the focus taken from Johnny Blaze and his dilemma is an odd storytelling decision.

The tone of the movie also waffles between dark (even edgier than the first) and foolishly ludicrous. Sometimes contrasting elements work great together, but I don't think this was one of those times.

The sum of all this strangeness is a movie that feels like the Ghost Rider taking a vacation in a foreign/independent film. Not one of those cool, cutting edge, freaky foreign films, but one of those weird ones that you can't make sense of. And one in which he is a glorified guest star.

There were some things I really liked about the movie. The rock music score fit the material well in most cases, with hard shredding guitar accompanying the mayhem The Rider brings with him.

The visual effects were cool and the costume and make-up design may even have been an improvement. Instead of a clean looking skull and leather jacket that are coated in fire, The Rider now has a charred skull and a flaking and bubbling jacket being perpetually damaged, though never destroyed by the heat.

In general the look of the film has more grit than the first, and though I missed some of the more "fantasy" visual elements of the first film, the change of pace was still nice and a great alternate interpretation of the material.

Unfortunately, these few positive elements aren't near enough to save this film.

As with any move that uses "the church" and its more archaic elements in the story, this movie has potential to leave one thinking about spiritual matters. Even more so given the demonic nature of The Rider and Blaze's quest for a kind of redemption.

There's a brief reference to a character being one of "God's children", which made me think about how that concept has been misunderstood and misrepresented in popular culture. There was a scene in which Johnny takes some form of "communion" and confesses his sin and unworthiness, but even the characters made light of this moment and treated it as a sort of empty part of the cleansing ritual that just has to be done for it to work. There's another moment where Johnny Blaze expresses the opinion that the evil powers inside of himself and Danny do not make them bad people by definition. And in the opening of the movie, the inherent evil present in all humans (even though we may think little of it) is exposed as Johnny Blaze narrates, saying that everyone has "something they don't want The Rider to see".

But each of these moments is just a blip on the radar that quickly vanishes, swallowed by the odd experience of watching the rest of the movie. You're very unlikely to have any meaningful thoughts triggered as you leave the theater.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language.

Quality: 6.5/10

Relevance: 6.0/10

For information on my scoring system, visit
Listen to this review this weekend at

Friday, February 17, 2012

Movie Reviews Coming Soon!

This week I've begun "transplanting" my movie reviews to The Spirit Blade Underground, which will be the new home for my movie reviews starting this weekend, with my review for "Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance".

Although before now, The Spirit Blade Underground Weblog has been designed mainly for updates for my production company and a weekly Bible study, I'm shortening the name slightly (ditching "Weblog") and changing the focus a bit to make it more of a hub for celebrating and examining geek entertainment culture from a biblical perspective, as well as exploring the Bible from a geek perspective.

The new posting format and emphasis of The Spirit Blade Underground will be taking shape over the course of the next few weeks, but I will plan to make an announcement here once it's gotten into the new groove.

I'm excited about the upcoming changes and I hope you enjoy them!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Two New Videos!

Looks like I finally found a new video editor that's easy enough for even ME to use! The video special features should be back on track from this point on. Thanks for your patience!

This month's video is part 2 of the "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream" script read-through. Hear an entire section of uncut narration and find out why I decided not to have any "magic" in this story!

And as an added bonus, I've also uploaded a video version of the Pilgrim's Progress trailer to Youtube, to make it easier than ever to share it with friends and people on the web!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Skyrim Worship Revisited

Since posting my thoughts on the religions of Skyrim, I've taken something of a newer approach in a somewhat "meta-gaming" vein. Now I've determined that my character is in some way "immortal", with origins from a higher dimensional plane. I've decided that my character has the same knowledge that I do. Namely, that his real name is Paeter and he lives in the real world and no one he interacts with in Tamriel is "real", but rather simulations of reality that some dark force has placed in my path to conceal the existence of the "First Cause", which I feel compelled by reason to seek out.

For this reason, a quest for power and dominance over Tamriel has become my focus. Not in the usual power-mad way you might think, since as I mentioned, my character is aware that his environment is an illusion and none of the "people" he interacts with have any real feelings. They are deceptive simulations.

Rather, my quest for power is so that I might finally have the strength to go toe to toe with the biggest, baddest cosmic "god" they can throw at me, and get him to squeal regarding the truth of the "First Cause" before he dies.

For this reason, I take on every quest I can, since knowledge and experience gives power toward this end. I do the "good" things and the "evil" things, playing the sick game of whatever dark power is trying to deceive me, until I can finally strip away the lies and begin my true quest for the truth.

Obviously, this would be a scary and psychotic way to approach real life (so I don't recommend it), but the difference here is that my character, an extension of me, knows objectively, based on irrefutable evidence, that his experience of Tamriel is an illusion.

In one sense this is an extremely nerdy way to take a game too seriously. Definitely pretty wacky, but a lot of fun. I even "sold my soul" to the daedra "Nocturna" in exchange for the power she coughed up, but little does she know she's gonna a get major butt kickin' too when the time comes! Stupid fake deity...


Monday, February 13, 2012

New Website Design!

After some crazy stuff that happened recently with my podcast hosting, the time has never seemed more clear to start working on a redesign of our main website. (The connection between the two being that I will eventually host the podcast on the new site instead of Libsyn.)

I had a phone meeting with my "tech guy" on Friday and he gave me an outline of what we could do to improve everyone's experience with our site and how much it will cost.

He's giving me a fantastic deal, but with Spirit Blade 3 prepping for production and the costs associated with it still not crystal clear, we'll likely need to proceed slowly in phases on the website.

In the next couple of weeks I'll be meeting with my designer to talk about the basics of the new site, so movement is already starting and I'll try to keep you all updated.

In fact, I hope to present some of what we talk about with you guys to get your feedback on the forums! While it won't be possible to please everybody, I'm hoping the new site will be something YOU guys like. (Otherwise, what's the point, right?)

I'm also considering a Kick-starter event and have already started dreaming up some cool and unique rewards for getting involved. More on that soon.

Anyway, I'm planning to use the forums as the main point of interaction with you guys regarding the new website design, so check back there often and leave any thoughts you might have. I know some of you have some great ideas, and I'd love to hear them! (I'd love to hear the bad ideas, too, for that matter!)

Both my tech guy and designer are really excited about working on this project and I'm excited to see it get started! Stay tuned for more soon!

-Paeter Frandsen

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Weight Loss Plan

I'm taking today off to finish recovering from this amazing 24-hour weight loss program I got from my dad this weekend.

Basically, it involves violently expelling liquids from two major orifices, instantly reducing water weight and also activating appetite suppression.

My wife and oldest son got it from my dad, too. So we've been having a great time "losing weight and feeling great" together!

The downside is naturally the "violently expelling liquids" part, and the fact that we weren't able to choose WHEN we wanted to try out the weight loss plan. So we're all still in recovery mode and I'm taking another day off.

I'll be back here on Friday!

-Paeter Frandsen

Monday, February 6, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 20:32-38

As Paul prepared to say goodbye for the last time to a group of men he had become so close to, he knew he was leaving them in the best hands. God's hands. He commended them to "the word of his grace".

The truth God has revealed to us in written words, the Bible, is "undeserved favor"(grace) in the sense that it can build us up. There are times when God's word cuts us deeply, as it reveals sin that we've been living in denial of. But the default, long-term effect of God's word is to strengthen us with a reliable foundation for surviving life's hurricanes.

When we allow our lives to be conformed to God's vision for us, we are becoming "sanctified", set apart from a mundane, pointless, auto-pilot existence to instead be used by God in service to his cosmic agenda. As we grow in sanctification the inheritance waiting for us grows as well. (v.32)

Paul affirms the sincerity of his ministry to the Ephesian church leaders by denying the accusation of greed commonly leveled at philosophers of this time period. (v.33) Paul went above and beyond to avoid this accusation in his ministry. He performed manual labor (a shameful practice for a philosopher at this time) to financially support himself and those serving with him, instead of making his living from teaching the gospel as was his and everyone's right who preaches the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:14)(v.34)

In choosing to work a second job instead of taking payment for his teaching, Paul demonstrated the kind of hard working, selfless compassion we should have for others, giving of ourselves instead of looking for ways to benefit from those around us, a mentality that lives by these words of Jesus (preserved here but absent in this exact form in the gospel accounts): It is more blessed to give than to receive." (v.35)

These words have become a trite "churchy phrase" over the years, but if we believe in Paul's earlier words about sanctification and a future inheritance, Jesus' words are more than just a nice sounding idea. These words are a promise.

To be blessed means to be content, or satisfied in a way that is not dependent on our circumstances. Jesus and Paul are both promising incredible reward if we are willing to say no to ourselves more often. A multiplying inheritance awaits if instead of being a drain on the resources of others, we're willing to be spent of our own resources for the benefit of those we interact with.

The evidence is clear that this is the kind of life Paul lived, as he prayed with these men one more time before they embraced and kissed him in a show of both deep love and grief. (v.36-38)

I'm a hardcore nerd who has almost never shared common interests with others in my age group at church. In high school and college every week after group meetings the official "fun" activity was volleyball. When I was on staff as a worship pastor, nearly all of the other pastors went mountain biking together. If I want to do my nerdy things with other Christians, I usually have to find ways to make it happen myself.

Despite taking pride in my nerd status, it's hard being the odd man out and I sometimes have little pity parties in my mind, wishing others would reach out to me and take interest in what I like to do. But that isn't the Spirit of Christ speaking to my heart in those moments. Instead what I long to remember is that Jesus emptied himself out for everyone around him, and he promises something amazing if I am willing to do the same.

Next- Paul's Journey Continues

Coffee House Question- What common ground do you suspect you might share with some of the people you interact with in your church?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chronicle (Movie Review)

Reviewing movies is usually fun, but sometimes when I go to review a movie, I have a strong suspicion that I won't enjoy it that much. Ordinarily, I wouldn't spend money to see it, but because I've built my podcast largely on sci-fi, fantasy and horror movie reviews, I feel an obligation to see and review every flick in those genres that I can as they come out. This means that it's very common for me to walk into a theater suspecting I won't have a good time and walking away feeling like my time and money were wasted. But there are those other times, when a movie could have turned out terrible, that I breathe a sigh of relief when it turns out to be a solid flick.

This was not my experience with "Chronicle". I suspected it might be an annoyingly shallow film, but hoped for at least a decent sci-fi movie, based on the trailer. Instead, what I got was a fantastic sci-fi film that fans of the genre will kick themselves for not seeing as soon as possible.

"Chronicle" is about three high school seniors who discover a mysterious, presumably alien substance underground. Their exposure to the object grants them all telekinetic powers which they learn to control more and more as the story progresses. At first, their abilities are merely sources of entertainment, as they play practical jokes on others, or in some way use their abilities to gain attention and favor with others. But Andrew, who is constantly mistreated and misunderstood, begins to lash out with his powers, bringing severe harm to others.

If at some point you begin to feel like you may have seen this movie before, you've probably watched the classic anime "Akira" at least once. It seems clear the writers took inspiration from Akira at several points, both visually and in terms of the story itself. Although "Chronicle" has far more sympathetic characters, and also a plot that makes sense.

The movie is shot in the increasingly popular documentary style, similar in some ways to films like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. I've seen several movies that use the same shooting style as this one, but I've never been more impressed with the variety of ways in which the camera was used while still limiting every shot we see to what an "in story" camera could potentially record.

We start the film limited to only what Andrew captures with his video camera. But as the film progresses, we begin to see events through multiple camera sources including a blogger's video camera, news footage, in-store security cameras and similar sources. And in the second half of the film, telekinesis is also applied to control of the cameras, allowing for some angles never seen before in a "doc" style movie, but that are still consistent with the limitations of using only "in-story" cameras.

This may give you the impression that the shooting style will be used to cover up a low budget and keep the movie grounded. But by halfway through this movie, things are anything but "grounded", as the boys learn what a simple ability like telekinesis really makes possible. By the end, the scale on which their powers are used is nothing short of epic, and I was thrilled and thankful that many of the most jaw-dropping moments were not spoiled in the trailer.

Not to say that this is just an effects film, either. Andrew is the character through whom we experience most of the story, and despite the dark turn he eventually takes, it's hard not to be sympathetic with him. He is picked on mercilessly by other kids, abused by his step father and only develops friendships with the two other boys because of a shared common experience. Relative unknown Dane DeHaan plays the troubled, socially awkward Andrew with great sincerity, and may even remind you of a real kid you know or knew in high school.

My complaints about the movie are few. I would have loved to see actual high school age actors playing these parts. Seeing twenty-somethings in these roles has become common in Hollywood, but the film could have had added realism and intensity if they had cast more age appropriate actors, or changed the plot to be about college students.

Although most of the effects are wonderful, I felt that a few of the visual effects shots could have been better. A floating baseball comes to mind. (Why not just use fishing line, guys?)

Throughout the movie I ran into numerous themes worthy of discussion on the ride home from the theater. Andrew's cousin, Matt, who also gains super powers, has been reading a bit of philosophy for one of his classes and often has little nuggets to spout about human nature. He contends that we are "creatures of will" and can never have our desires satisfied. And biblical anthropology would agree with this, I think.

We are free creatures gifted with free wills, and yet because of sin we are separated from God, who is the ultimate source of fulfillment. Until the day when he removes our ability to sin and gives us new and perfect bodies, all of our attempts at self-fulfillment will fall short. It's possible the theme of "failing to fulfill our own desires" was an intended parallel to Andrew's story, who seems to believe that he can use his powers to get the things he wants from life.

Andrew himself also shares a personal philosophy that is intriguing. At one point he tells his camera that he has been thinking about evolution. Specifically natural selection and "survival of the fittest". He reasons that because a lion does not feel guilty when it kills a gazelle, that there would be nothing wrong with him harming or even killing a weaker human being.

This is a very striking statement, as it clearly demonstrates the inevitable, horrifying result of consistently applying a belief in naturalistic evolution to the way we live and think of others. Taken out of the realm of academic theory and applied to life, naturalistic evolution will lead to terrible harm inflicted on one human by another. This movie is far from an argument for theism, but it stands out among sci-fi films as being willing to shed light on the "dark side" of a worldview taken for granted by millions.

Near the end of the film, Matt comments that even after all Andrew has done, he is still not a "bad person". I have to say, after seeing all that Andrew had done to that point(watch the movie and see for yourself!), I'd love to ask Matt for his description of what a "bad person" WOULD have to do to earn the title! Does a poor upbringing or being mistreated by others give us license to lash out and harm or kill people? When DOES a person go from good, to neutral, to bad, and how does Matt know what this objective standard is?

Sure, it's being a bit nit-picky, but beneath the surface of small comments like Matt's are unstated yet deeply held philosophies about who we are and what right and wrong is that can be harmful if not examined and picked apart now and then.

Chronicle is a fantastic, dark-toned sci-fi flick that could have been revolutionary but settles for being a fantastic must-see film. It is also likely to give you some things to ponder about who we really are as humans when the curtain of idealism no longer hides our innermost desires.

Rated PG-13 for for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking.

Quality: 9.0/10

Relevance: 8.0/10

Friday, February 3, 2012

Script Polishing and Card Game Update

This week I've begun what I hope is my final complete pass through the Spirit Blade 3 script to edit and polish it to prepare for recording.

At this point, most changes are cosmetic and don't change the plot, but rather aim to reinforce the story and characters. I'm also doing the best I can to look for any remaining loopholes in the story. I've had my eye out for them since day one, but it's been good to look at the script again with fresh eyes after completing the last draft in October/November of last year.

I've also decided on a slight change in my script polishing plans for the second episode of "Pilgrim's Progress". Rather than worry about getting the entire script into "recording shape" in the coming weeks, I'm going to just do enough polishing to figure out what roles I might like Michael Tully (Raan) and Sean Anthony Roberts (Saolos) to consider recording for if we have the extra time when they each come into town to record this spring/summer.

The remaining polishing for Pilgrim's Progress Ep.2 will now probably wait until after production on Spirit Blade 3 (man, I STILL need to finalize a subtitle for that) is finished. The reason for this is that in the coming months, as I prepare to release the Spirit Blade card game, I will want to ramp up my development schedule and bring work on the card game into my normal work hours in order to make consistent progress with it. (To this point it has been a "spare time only" project to avoid slowing down SB3 development.) As time progresses toward the card game's release, I'll be offering you guys more sneak peaks and updates, and I'd hate to whet your appetite only to continually have to delay the release because of my unpredictable "free time development schedule".

That's it for now! Have a great weekend!

-Paeter Frandsen

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 20:25-31

Paul is saying goodbye to the Elders (leaders) of the church in Ephesus, believing this to be the last time he will see them. (v.25) So it follows that he would aim to make his words count. His words to these church leaders contain principles that can be applied to those in church leadership today. But they can also be applied to any believer, since we should all be aiming to not only be taught, but to help others learn the truth more as well. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Paul seems to have Ezekiel 3:18-20 in mind when he says that he is "innocent of the blood of all men". (v.26) In this Old Testament passage, God told Ezekiel that if someone continued in sin because Ezekiel did not warn them about it, Ezekiel would be held responsible for their sin as well. Paul says that he is innocent of this kind of sin because he never hesitated to proclaim the entire will of God revealed to him. (v. 27)

In the same way, we should recognize the responsibility we have as believers to communicate the truth to others. God has given us the incredible opportunity to see lives change before our eyes, if we are willing to share the truth that God gives us.

Church leaders and all Christians should keep watch over themselves and each other, not with an eagerness to find fault and point fingers, but with the mentality of a shepherd, modeled after the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who went so far as to give his own life for all of us, his foolish, wandering sheep. (v.28)

Paul recognized a danger common to many Christian communities (probably all of them on at least some level). In the absence of good leadership, people will try to start their own movements based on false ideas and values, resulting in terrible damage to those they influence. (v.29)

And these people won't necessarily be outsiders. (In my experience, they are usually already members of the community.) They may be people you already know, or even those in some form of leadership already, who will champion a pet cause, bending scripture to support or over-emphasize their agenda, and create division in the community. (v.30)

Paul's urgent warning regarding this possibility is to "be on your guard". We should constantly be "seeking the truth" regarding every idea presented to us, asking ourselves, "does this align with what the Bible teaches?" Paul devoted three years to helping these leaders in Ephesus discern truth more effectively, and he did so constantly, and with great passion and cost to himself.(v.31)

I'm convinced that this kind of active discernment, instead of passive "auto-pilot" living, can make the difference between a life fueled with God's power and purpose, and a life spiraling off track, devoid of meaning without even realizing it. As geeks it can be especially tempting to live life vicariously through the fictional worlds we enjoy. But Paul's words here serve as a call to you and I to turn off auto-pilot, stay alert and engaged with the real world, discerning what is most important and pursuing the truth.

Next- Paul's Farewell, Concluded

Coffee House Question- When a Christian you know presents an idea that seems counter to what you believe is true or biblical, what most commonly keeps you from saying anything to counter or respond to what they've said?