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Thursday, December 5, 2013
Purple State of Craig
Because the conversation continues….
Anticipation is building for the December 18th arrival of James Cameron’s first feature in 12 years, AVATAR. Reports about the budget rising above $300 million have resulted in striking similarities to the fear and trembling in Hollywood that preceded Titanic. Cameron is one of the only directors who can secure so much financial backing on an original script. The studios don’t mind risking so much money on a known quantity like a superhero film (Spiderman) or a sequel (Transformers). But with Avatar, Cameron has brought an entirely new world of the Na’bi in eyepopping 3D technology. The New Yorker chronicled his chutzpah in remarkable detail.
While the initial trailer failed to meet expectations, star Sigourney Weaver suggests that fans will find the finished film irresistible. She figures three or four trips to the theater will become the norm. Surely, Fox is hoping for the kind of repeat business and word of mouth that blasted Titanic into gargantuan heights.
Today’s LA Times also highlights two interesting connections. A USC linguistics professor created the language assigned to the Na-bi tribe. Will it become a fanboys delight, rivaling their affection for the Klingon spoken in the Star Trek series? Or will it sound silly, raising regretable echoes of Jar Jar Binks?
The video game version of Avatar arrives tomorrow. Cameron wisely developed the game alongside the movie (rather than waiting to create an unsatisfying knock off of the film’s story). It demonstrates how much the lines between gaming and movies have blurred. Evidently, the University of California at Irvine has created a new major in game science. What was dismissed as flyweight entertainment just ten years ago, now has earned academic credibility. Sounds like the time is right for a book that studies the spiritual implications of video games and virtual worlds.
I just happen to have just finished editing a stellar collection of essays entitled, HALOS AND AVATARS: Playing Video Games with God. Honestly, I am thrilled by how well this book came together. My contributors are quite brilliant. The book raises surprising and timely themes about eternal tensions like predestination versus free will. And what will terms like ‘born again’ mean in a world in which everyone already has a Second Life and multiple Miis? In coming weeks, I hope to highlight the various chapters and contributors. But for now, how about ordering an early Christmas present—Halos and Avatars arrives in January.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard Christians express a hunger to see their faith portrayed in a forthright manner onscreen. Nobody wants to see something preachy. They simply long to find a film that shows how beliefs are translated into tangible actions. Surely, daily discipleship decisions can be translated into cinematic terms.
Prayers have been answered with a remarkably entertaining film, THE BLIND SIDE. This real life story of football player Michael Oher comes from the acclaimed pen of Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball and The New New Thing). But The Blind Side is a much more than a football story. It is a tribute to families, to the power of adoption, to the practical difference one family can make. At a time when we desperately need heroic actions, The Blind Side delivers refreshing role models.
Sandra Bullock is so compelling as Leigh Anne Tuohy. She absolutely owns the screen with a ferocity so rarely afforded to cinematic mothers. She is such a charming and persuasive Southern belle. As Big Mike, newcomer Quintin Aaron softens, breaks and then restores our hearts. It is such a strong understated performance. John Lee Hancock (The Rookie) directs a winning cast. He makes us care deeply about the characters and their predicaments. Cynical reviewers may consider their choices cloying. Some have called the film paternalistic (white family rescues poor black boy). But I’d suggest that The Blind Side earns respect through conscientious actions.
I had the privilege of previewing the film and writing a study guide. It includes downloadable scenes from The Blind Side. While New Moon may capture most of the headlines this weekend, The Blind Side will quietly renew your faith in Hollywood and in what a difference we can each make if we simply live out our convictions. It will join the ranks of Rudy and Hoosiers as an instant sports classic. Not because of action on the gridiron, but rooted in the transformation that occurs within Michael Oher and the viewer.
Forget swine flu. The most intense virus sweeping teens is Twilight. Feverish anticipation for the second part of The Twilight Saga: New Moon has been brewing for months. The most dedicated fans, “Twi-hards,” have taken to the streets of Los Angeles, camping out for days before the second installment of the teen vampire saga opens Friday AM.
Those who’ve read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series are predisposed to swoon for the tortured teen vampire, Edward Cullen. His radiant appearance, sparkling in the sunlight, echoes David Bowie’s androgynous “Diamond Dogs.” Edward defends Bella Swan with such ferocity, taming his own blood-lust to protect her life. Robert Pattinson brought minimal screen experience (he plays Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter series) to the role. But Edward’s pale skin and private suffering suited the London-born actor. Pattinson even contributed a couple of songs (‘Never Think’ and ‘Let Me Sign’) to the Twilight soundtrack.
What’s the secret of Twilight’s success? Stephenie Meyer found a perfect vehicle to explore sexual anxiety—teenage vampires. Bella and Edward can only be together as long as their passions don’t consume them. When Edward slips into Bella’s bedroom in the first Twilight film, only Edward’s self-restraint saves them. Holding hands and lying in the grass will have to suffice. Meyer’s modest Mormon roots actually suit our post-sexual era. The Twilight series makes abstinence excruciatingly attractive. At last, a steamy novel of dangerous, forbidden love that every parent can love.
Tween girls may be drawn to the androgynous Edward, but surely, over time, they will come to embrace Taylor Lautner’s washboard abs as Jacob. Give me a hearty, Native American werewolf over a fey British vampire every time. I’m committed to Team Jacob.
I’ve been to Jacob and the wolves’ native lands in La Push, Washington. The home of the Quileute tribe has a raw, rugged beauty. Massive waves crash against rocky James Island. Mist hangs in the air. It is isolated, remote, set apart. It is also horribly depressed. Economic opportunities are almost non-existent. La Push is primed for stories and legends compared to the more pedestrian Forks, Washington. Yet, Forks has cranked up numerous ways for Twilight’s fans to tour the area.
I wonder how the Native American community feels about Twilight? Stephenie Meyer places imported vampires in opposition to indigenous wolves. That’s a new twist on an old American story. But she also trades upon longstanding stereotypes of Native peoples as magical, mystical, and attuned to nature. There’s nothing ‘new’ about that moon.
So what kinds of portraits are worthy of Native American Heritage month? Two captivating alternatives arrive in Los Angeles this week. Evan Adams, the star of Smoke Signals, will be speaking on the Pepperdine campus on Wednesday night. Evan explodes all kinds of stereotypes, as a gay, Canadian, Native American actor who is also a medical doctor! I’m screening the smart and subtle film based upon Sherman Alexie’s wry stories on Tuesday morning. Amongst Evan Adams’ funniest lines as Thomas Builds-a-Fire in Smoke Signals, “The only thing more pathetic than Indians on TV is Indians watching Indians on TV.”
Sherman Alexie loaned his considerable cachet to the re-release of the classic 1961 film, The Exiles. It arrives as a special 2 disc DVD on Tuesday. The Exiles is a poetic portrait of Native Americans rambling around downtown Los Angeles. Director Kent Mackenzie led a crew of recent USC grads through a couple years of intermittent filming. Milestone Films teamed with USC and UCLA archivists to restore this truly indie film. What a luminescent, black and white time capsule they’ve uncovered. These exiles are still trying to find their place in the City of the Angels.
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