Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Film Review: End of Animal or The Apocalypse Comes to the Korean Countryside

Director and Writer: Sung-hee Jo   



There are so many American evangelical Christian movies out nowadays. Movies such as War Room, for instance. On the whole, these films are generally only received well by Christians...primarily because American evangelical Christian filmmaking is so bad. Notice, I keep saying "American evangelical Christian." And the reason I am so specific is because non-American evangelical films are generally rather good. And American Christian non-evangelical films are also generally good. (See "The Mission," for example.) There have, of course, been a few good evangelical Christian movies. The Apostle, for instance. But in all honesty, evangelical Christian movies made by Americans are usually pretty bad.

One of the reasons why Evangelical America Christian movies are so terrible is that they are so finely-woven together with American culture, American filmmaking, and American Church tradition. American culture has certain racial and social ideas that have seeped into American Christianity. American filmmaking aims for blockbusters; thus American Christian movies tend to be large-scale affairs rather than indies. And American Church tradition is illustrative, preachy, expository, combative, and informed by such siege mentality that it often feels the movie is all too aware of possible enemies/unsaved folks/detractors in the audience. Because of this debate mentality, many Christian movies are not about characters but they often seem to be about polemics and doctrinal points.

Given all that, it's always refreshing to see Christian films that are simple stories. It's refreshing when the films are plain old stories but it's downright exhilarating when a Christian filmmaker tackles Christian a perfectly cinematic way. 

End of Animal, which is streaming online in various places, is an apocalyptic film that is a far cry from the likes of would-be blockbuster Left Behind. The story begins with a cab ride. Our heroine, Soo Young, is heavily pregnant and is pretty much due any minute. Because of this, she is driving to her mother's house where her mother will take care of her before, during, and after the birth. The cabbie is a friendly older guy. But a stranger soon joins the group in the cab. He's wearing a hood, and a baseball cap and he knows way too much about the lives of the two people he's traveling with. He also knows the world will be ending soon. Is he an angel? God? Or "an angel of the Lord" (an angel who pretty much is so full of God that the angel is almost a walking manifestation of God.)?

Well, the angel starts telling them all will go black within a few seconds and gives them some advice. Even after the blackout occurs, electricity stops, and good folks disappear off the face of the earth, he keeps giving advice to our heroine. Via a walkie-talkie or by other means (dreams, notes, words spoken off the cuff by casual strangers, etc.)  Note, I said "advice." Because one cannot really call the words "commands." This being is protective, testy when not listened to, omniscient, but by no means a "bully."

This is one of the first areas where this movie differs from American movies. In an American Christian movie, we would have been given a long dissertation on who this being is and why He is being this way, complete with chapter and verse. There is no such exposition in this movie. Korean filmmakers are notorious at trusting their audiences. American filmmakers are equally notorious for introducing characters, showing their character traits, and generally not trusting their audiences to figure stuff out.

I said earlier that this being is testy. And really, after watching Soo-Young repeatedly follow her own logic, disobey intuition, disobey clear commands, and get into deeper and deeper more harrowing circumstances, the viewer understands why this unknown protector of hers gets annoyed. Like Israel of old, and like Christendom now, Soo-Young is willful, stiff-necked, and self-trusting to an inordinate way too logical degree. Like the poor man beaten on the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan, she has traveled a road and has been beaten. But unlike the beaten man, she continually refuses the help provided by the Good Samaritan.

We the viewers consider her a "good" character because she is clearly a decent person. But she is not an obedient character. We consider her a character whom another character loves and wants to save. But at the end, one wonders if this woman is beyond salvation. And with the film's devastating last lines of dialog, one understands the exasperation of God.

There is one character who is reminiscient of the malefactor on the cross and it's a bit jarring to see his redemption. But, if one is a viewer of Korean dramas and movies, one has come to understand the almost-ubiquitous redemption arc.

The other thematic layer is social and historical. Our heroine has suffered in much the same way that modern Korea (or even modern African-American) culture has. Does she come out of her suffering with any sense of gratitude? No, she repairs her woundedness with the desire for stuff.

If this movie had been made in the USA, the bad guy would have been killed and our heroine would have seen the light.

This movie is not to everyone's taste. If you aren't a religious person, avoid it. But if you like scifi apocalyptical films, films about the spiritual nature of human beings, and Christian films that are a notch above the rest, this film is Highly Recommended.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Review: The Time Garden by Daria Song

The Time Garden: A Magical Journey and Coloring Book (Time Series)

  • 80 pages
  • Watson-Guptill; Clr edition (September 1, 2015)

  • ISBN-13: 978-1607749608

  • $8.79

    I recently reviewed the second book in this series, the Time Chamber and I liked it a lot. But now that I've seen the first book, I think the second pales in comparison. It pales because the first is so rich.

    The Time Garden is essentially a coloring book with a story thrown in to frame the pictures. The typefont for the story is pretty small for a kid's book -- and yes, although this is supposed to be an adult coloring book, I definitely think it'll probably be bought for kids. The vocabulary in which the story is told is a bit unwieldy for a kid but it's perfect for adults. The story itself is good for kids but there is no resonance for adults. It would've been good if there could be a story that really does connect symbolically to the adult mind. But, maybe I'm nit-picking. The book is after all, primarily, a coloring book.

    Which brings me to why I like this book so much better than the first. The pictures here are just more complicated period. There are lots of nooks, crannies, patterns, geometric, man-made, and natural shapes in the world. Birds and flowers are on one page while axles or buildings or gears or balloons are on the next. Although it is not fantastical in the sense of fantasy, it does present the world in a way that enables the viewer to see how beautiful and eerie the world can seem if one only looks. It's fun. More aimed for girls but boys might like them. Because some of the drawings are so complicated and the coloring space so small, I wouldn't recommend this book for children who don't know how to color within the lines.

    The pages have so far been able to withstand magic markers but because the pictures are on both sides of the page, i would be careful with the kind of media one uses. Crayon, colored pencils seem best.

    Very recommended for adults and kids who like coloring.



    Saturday, October 17, 2015

    The Time Chamber by Daria Song

    The Time Chamber
    by Daria Song
    Clr edition
    (October 13, 2015)
    ISBN 9781607749615
    80 pages
    9 13/16" x 9 13/16”
    I haven’t seen any adults coloring any books but supposedly there’s an adult coloring book
    craze. Who knew? So when I got the opportunity to review one of them, I grabbed it. The fact
    that the book features a world perfect for fantasylovers
    who yearn for sensawonda helped too.
    Unlike, say, illustration books where the colors are chosen by the creator of the book, what
    makes coloring books so good is that there’s a collaboration between the original artist and
    countless colorers around the world. Coloring book artistry is a skill that requires generosity and
    as they guide strangers through their created world.
    So, the book. There is a story as well. A little fairy who lives inside a cuckoo clock is bored with
    her world and decides to visit the human world. The sights the reader/cocreator
    sees are tiny
    because they are seen through the POV of a tiny fairy. Aspects of the human world would seem
    magical to any stranger, but imagine a tiny creature from another world viewing our human
    world at night. This is what is so lovely. Our world is full of so many patterns which we barely
    notice. The practical created arts of a utensil set or of keys or the haphazard patterns of books
    on a bookshelf are what brings delight to our lives. I remember sitting in a dentist chair once and
    noticing how the horizontal slats of the window blinds fell against the window sills and how the
    light reflected diagonally on the medicine drawer. I’m sure it made me smile. The world is full of
    design, color, and patterns we hardly notice unless a child or a fairy brings them to our attention.
    Then suddenly the designs on crockery, the parallels of the rise and goings of a staircase, or
    even the face of a clock will give us pause. Art and the POV of children truly adds beauty and
    magic to our world.
    This is the sequel to an earlier work which showed the fairy’s world. That was probably lovely as
    well. The book is printed on both sides of the paper. That means that one should warn one’s
    child to be careful about what media they use. Recommended for kids and adults who like to
    Happy creativity

    Thursday, October 15, 2015

    Review: NLRV Giant Print Holy Bible

    NLRV Giant Print Holy Bible
    • Age Range: 8 and up
    • Hardcover: 2368 pages
    • Publisher: Zondervan (October 6, 2015)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0310751209
    • ISBN-13: 978-0310751205

    When I read that this was a Giant Print Bible, I was suspicious. Giant Print Bibles are either very, very large and unwieldy -- often coming in two different books-- or the print isn't "giant" at all. But when the Bible arrived, I really liked it. This Bible actually works. It is giant-print and it's in a handy-sized book.

    Another great thing about it is that it's the Bible and little else. There is a small dictionary and a list of 150 famous Bible stories at the back --and a table of contents and a tiny introduction in the front. But other than that it is the Bible without all that pesky "study" that makes Bibles unwieldy or that tells us what to think. The margins are somewhat small so not a lot of room for notetaking -- although one can still take notes. The Bible is told in single column format so the reader will have to get used to reading across the width of the page without wandering into other lines. I would've wanted spaces between each paragraphs but that would probably add more pages. So this Bible works. There are chapters headings and sub-headings within chapters. The typefont is dark and heavy which is good but that sometimes means one can see through the paper to the preceding or the following pages. It's hardcover and solid without feeling ultra-heavy.

    This is the kind of Bible that is good for small kids whose eyes have not gotten used to small print or to people with sight issues or eye problems. I was going to give this Bible to a church, which is what I generally do with Bibles after I review them, but I think I'll give this to hubby. He got this great big smile on his face when he opened it to read it.

    I was given this Bible free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Friday, October 02, 2015

    Review: The Surprising Imagination of C S Lewis -- An Introdution

    The Surprising Imagination of C S Lewis -- An Introduction
    Jerry Root and Mark Neal
    Abingdon Press

    Have you ever had one of those moments when the perfect book falls into your hands at the perfect time? There I was writing a new story and in a bit of quandary about what direction my imagination in the story would take.

    Knowledge of Lewis writings would make this book an even better read but it is not required because the editors/writers have written a book that is an “introduction” to Lewis’ philosophy of the imagination and to his writings.  

    It seems --according to the editors-- Lewis has written about the senses and types of imagination. The three senses of imagination are as follows: the first is wish-fulfillment fantasy which is self-referential and narcissistic and imagines the dreamer as the hero. The second sense is invention in which the creative power of the human mind crafts images and depictions to explore, grasp, and understand the world as it is. The third sense is the imagination that helps us to understand what is beyond our understanding and experience horizons that are beyond our experiences.

    The types of imagination include: the baptized imagination which is the imagination regenerated which is an awakening and longing for the numinous, and a waking to the grief of the world. The penetrating imagination is imagination that helps in getting deeper knowledge of a kind of reality. There is also the material imagination, the generous imagination, the primary imagination, the transforming imagination, the controlled imagination, the satisfied imagination, the awakened imagination, the absorbing imagination, the shared imagination, the compelled imagination, and the realizing imagination. I think those are all of them. The editors use different works by Lewis to show how these different kinds of imagination are at work in literature, art, spirit, theology, creativity, self-knowledge, and reality.

    C S Lewis is a Christian writer who, along with other Christian writers such as George MacDonald and J R R Tolkein-- has influenced much of modern fantasy. I suspect many readers will not want to read this book because they fear they might be overwhelmed with silly Christian nonsense. But trust me on this, unless an atheist writer has a major grudge against an old evangelical aunt, he/she should find this book very enlightening. And certainly those who want to depict the religious mind properly, without spite or injustice, would do well to read a book like this.  

    I really want to do this book justice because it is that good! Maybe I just love having my heart opened to how the creative heart opens. The last book that had such an effect on me was Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova and that was a book that used Arthur Conan Doyle to show how memory, neuroscience, and literature works. This book brought back my joyful love of literary criticism and reminded me again why my favorite genre to read and to study is review/criticism. Truly, reading this book caused me to be Surprised by Joy.

    Thursday, September 17, 2015

    Review: Two Days, One Night

    Country: Belgium
    Language: French | Arabic | English
    Release Date: 21 May 2014
    Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
    Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
    95 minutes

    Humiliation is often part of a character’s arc. But usually, in stories, a journey through humiliation is not the entirety of the arc. This is the case, however, is what the award-winning French film Two Days, One Night is about.

    The story begins when Sandra (Marion Cotillard) receives a phone call while she is making breakfast for her family. The call is from a colleague at work and she is told that a vote has been taken by her fellow employees and she will be laid off. It is evident that Sandra and her family belong to the struggling working class. To make matters worse, they have recently taken out a mortgage on their home. They need the job. But Sandra’s fellow employees are also working class folks and when faced with the choice of their $1000 bonus or having Sandra lose her job, the employees chose their jobs. The problem is: Sandra had a nervous breakdown earlier – from which she is still not fully recovered—and while she was away the company realized that 16 people could do the work instead of seventeen. All everyone has to do is to work three hours overtime each week. So why should the boss take Sandra back again? Especially when a new job contract with another company has popped up?

    Sandra, however, is not willing to give in easily. The colleague who called her has managed to finagle a new vote. If Sandra can do her best over the weekend to convince her fellow employees to change their minds –for her sake—she can keep her job. But how to beg, plead, ask, people to give up what is “rightfully” their own? She is not particularly a fighter. She freezes, her voice constricts, she goes into panic mode, she gets suicidal. She is not the person to go around begging. It’ll only bring humiliation, self-loathing, self-recriminations. In short, humiliation.

    Humiliation is hard to watch, even when Sandra meets those who are willing to be sacrificial for the sake of another person. It’s hard. But when she meets the self-satisfied, it becomes even harder. But the weekend progresses, and Sandra commits to her pleading (for the most part: there is a major lapse toward the end.)

    This is a good little film. It has heart in its restrained Belgian way, and although I generally think restraint – just as over-emotionalness—has to be done well in film-making, the restraint works well here because the audience is well-aware that Sandra is an emotional mess who is holding up fairly well (externally) considering the circumstances. It’s a wonderful study on human nature, human resilience, society, selfishness, rationalization, and all those other spiritual words we use when we talk about loving our fellow man. Highly recommended. I suspect those who love stories about the human spirit or spiritual movies will like this because it is so well done. Spirituality without preachiness. Good discussion movie for schools, film groups, spiritual groups. If you like actioners, this might not be the film for you however.

    Monday, August 31, 2015

    Review: Korean documentary -- My Love, Do Not Cross That River

    This powerful documentary is not for everyone. Its slow languid tender pace is not only beautiful but it is a death-watch of sorts. We know from the beginning scene that one of the main persons --in this case, the husband Kang Kye-yeol-- in this documentary is going to die.

    It is the ending story of married couple Jo Byeong-man and Kang Kye-yeol who have been married for 76 years ever since they met when he was 19 and she was 14. It has been said that if one really loves one's spouse one must be prepared to let that spouse die before one's own death. In that way, the survivng spouse won't have to deal with the horrible loss. Most marriages do not last for 76 years. So one can imagine how harrowing it must be for an 89 year old woman who has loved and known her husband since she was a child.

    Korea is good at these intimate documentaries of the human condition. The filmmaker Jin Mo-young filmed the couple through joyful and intimate moments and the viewer wonders about how the fimmaker managed to be afforded this privacy for 15 months. Throughout the 90 minute fim, we see the everyday activity of two people who have lived and loved each other, and who have seen the death of children and the indifference of one particular son. The film will definitely bring you to tears. Not to be missed, especially by romantics who aim to love and live long.

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