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Come Forth…

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HT: The Point:

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A West Virginia woman is at the Cleveland Clinic after walking the line between life and death.

Doctors are calling Val Thomas a medical miracle. They said they can’t explain how she is alive.

They said Thomas suffered two heart attacks and had no brain waves for more than 17 hours. At about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, her heart stopped and she had no pulse. A respiratory machine kept her breathing and rigor mortis had set in, doctors said.

“Her skin had already started to harden and her fingers curled. Death had set in,” said son Jim Thomas.

They rushed her to a West Virginia hospital. Doctors put Thomas on a special machine which induces hypothermia. The treatment involves lowering the body temperature for up to 24 hours before warming a patient up.

After that procedure, her heart stopped again.

“She had no neurological function,” said Dr. Kevin Eggleston.

Her family said goodbye and doctors removed all the tubes.

However, Thomas was kept on a ventilator a little while longer as an organ donor issue was discussed.

Ten minutes later the woman woke up and started talking. (Emphasis mine)

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Written by taj

May 28, 2008 at 8:18 am

Posted in Evangelism, General, stories

Gearing up for Prince Caspian

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Scanning through Evangelical Outpost, I came across this little gem over at BeliefNet highlighting 12 Spiritual Lessons from Prince Caspian, the novel as opposed to the film. 

I think I had started to feel a little lethargic in regard to Narnia lately.  After going through the list and getting a little refresher on the story, I’ve gotten amped again to see it.

The latest trailer did not really impress me – the film looks a little too much like a riff on The Lord of the Rings, something I think Tolkien and Lewis would be the first to agree that Narnia is most definitely not. 

Fans have nearly driven themselves ape over images from the trailers, most of which are merely quibbles.  Film is a different medium than a novel – an adaptation will sometimes involve embellishments, subtractions or additions, to make a literary story work visually.  Since Lewis left so much to the imagination in his narratives, such development is almost required. 

I make no predictions about this one.  The previous film hit more beats than it missed, but the ones it missed flew wide of the mark.  I would hate to see similar results this time around.  The strength of Caspian rests on the story.  The closer the filmmakers stick, the better the film will be. 

Written by taj

May 6, 2008 at 10:58 am

“I see now what I have to become to stop men like him.”

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The Dark KnightTheatrical trailer


My excitement for this picture grows every week. Each trailer has further revealed the many layers this story looks to cover, particularly Bruce Wayne’s struggle against a kind of criminal that more closely resembles the senseless malevolence of terrorism.

The more I see, the bigger the story looks, and the rumors that the filmmakers were working feverishly to trim the film down from three hours look less and less unfounded.

The inclusion of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) adds a twist. Fans will recall his destiny as  Two-Face.  Since I learned of the character’s inclusion in the film, I’ve been curious how Christopher Nolan would handle it.

There’s much more to the character than what we saw in Tommy Lee Jones’s incarnation.  Dent’s arc, if handled properly, would add a great character-driven element to the mythos of this particular iteration.  I love the foreshadowing offered by the trailer as Dent pontificates, “You either die the hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Once the previous Batman films ventured into the realm of two villains per picture, things started to go a little awry. Begins handled the dual villainy of the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul pretty well.  But, the Joker’s already larger than life, and there has to be a line to cross where things start to look bloated.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Various other sites are beginning to post pictures of Dent after his…”incident.”  I’ve avoided them, plan to until I see the film.  I want to be blown away by this picture.  I expect to be.  And I have had my hopes dashed before, so I remain a little guarded.  Sequels like Aliens, The Godfather Part II, or even Spider-Man 2, do not appear very often.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Written by taj

May 5, 2008 at 11:19 am

Posted in Movies, Pop Culture, stories

59 days and counting…

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I’m falling behind.  Some of the scenes I’m working on set up later pay-offs that the first draft didn’t really nail.  Actually, keeping with the metaphor, the hammer missed the nail completely, and splintered the wood quite badly. 

All of the easier scenes are done and just waiting to be pasted in with the whole.  But after two days, I’m about two pages short of the daily goal.  Not that the writing has been the only challenge; there was a trip to the ER last night (mother and baby are fine – no worries), and the overtime I had to work the day before. 

The trip to the ER turned out to be nothing.  Pregnancy is just strange, and the things that can signal danger can also be just as benign.  Thankfully, this was the latter. 

The overtime was a different matter, somewhat similar to that moment in ScroogedRose! You have to work late!  If you can’t work late, I can’t work late.  If I can’t work late…I CAN’T WORK LATE!  So said the fellow with whom I usually carpool.  Kind of.  He doesn’t normally call me Rose.  And I needed the money, so I wasn’t going to complain. 

Anyway, enough with the excuses.  Gotta try and hammer out six pages tonight.  And Lost is on.  (sigh) Choices. 

Written by taj

May 1, 2008 at 8:54 am

Smash Cut – “Cloverfield”

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It’s not easy to admit this. But they say confession starts the process of healing, so I’m just going to lay it out there. I ignored the reviews. I ignored my friends’ advice. I even ignored my own good sense. I was duped, see — caught up in the enthusiasm that anyone who can set up film so spectacularly has to deliver a terrific pay off. My pride’s only recourse is that no one can count me among the hapless many that shelled out full price for a ticket to see the disastrous train wreck that is Cloverfield.

It’s Robert Hawkins’s last night in Manhattan. His friends have all gathered to wish him well while one compadre totes a video camera around to capture everyone’s goodbyes—and the entire film happens through its lens.

A jolting earthquake brings everything to a halt. Everyone heads to the roof of this posh Manhattan apartment complex to see all the action, just in time to witness a cataclysmic explosion erupt in the city, spewing debris. Hawkins and his buddies evacuate the building, just in time (you’ll find yourself repeating this phrase a lot) to see the head of the Statue of Liberty crash into the streets of New York. A monster has invaded the city!

It’s a near-flawless logline; the perfect set up to a 90 minute disaster flick, and difficult to screw up. Somehow, the filmmakers actually manage to do just that. Thankfully, it only lasts about 73 minutes.

The marketing for this film was brilliant, releasing a quick trailer six months ahead revealing the premise, the creative minds attached, and a release date. No title. Audiences went crazy with speculation. Everyone started hoping to relive the Blair Witch phenomenon. The downfall started once we learned the title — an enigmatic name various web sites had floated from the beginning; a name with no relevance to anything in the film, implied or imagined, at all. And that’s just a precursor.

This near-flawless premise comes polluted with cookie-cutter iterations of any number of shallow personalities found on the WB’s line up. There’s the jilted lover, the lover’s hip brother, the brother’s endearing girlfriend, and the token slacker/best friend who just can’t keep his mouth shut. And they all have to find Hawkins’s girlfriend, trapped in her apartment. Conveniently located at the epicenter of the monster’s inexplicable wrath. On the 39th floor.

They have no choice, you see. Remember all those rescue workers, those heroes, that gave themselves and often their lives on 9-11? They’re conspicuously missing from this picture. Perhaps there is no emergency responder for convoluted plotlines.

When the performances captured in the trailers look and sound more natural than those used in the final cut, something’s amiss. Running on the premise that everything you see was supposedly culled from home video footage, spontaneity becomes a key selling point. Everything about this picture feels forced or manufactured.

Critics have drawn numerous parallels between this movie and the other “home video” thriller – The Blair Witch Project – and comparisons should end with the inclusion of the video camera. The terror of Blair Witch was elemental; it played on base fears, building on that oft ignored rule that what you can’t see is much scarier than what you can. Where Blair Witch terrifies, Cloverfield only inspires guffaws. So many scares spurn utterances of “I-seen-that-one-coming” that you wonder why the movie bothers to take itself so seriously. One particular scene might have earned a place among the more chilling moments to come out of the genre in recent years, were it not so delimited by cliché.

I really wanted to like this picture, yet every time I find a compliment, a qualifier has to follow. For instance, the film possesses some amazing visuals, but nothing that surpasses anything seen all the other times Hollywood has blown up New York. The filmmakers involved in this project – Drew Goddard, J.J. Abrams, etc. – have earned numerous accolades for their work on television for years. Not quite sure what happened here, but for all its marketing innovation, Cloverfield falls well short of what should have been a slam dunk.

(photo (c) Paramount Pictures)

Written by taj

April 22, 2008 at 10:12 pm

Smash Cut – “The Forbidden Kingdom”

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Folklore follows a particular template, as most stories within a genre will do from time to time. The Forbidden Kingdom follows that template almost to the letter, and in many respects, it actually works in favor of the film. It’s the surprises that elevate it from just another mediocre kung-fu movie into an enjoyable little ride that doesn’t require a lot of effort.

Teenage kung-fu junkie Jason Tripitakus (Michael Arangano, Seabiscuit) buys bootleg martial arts DVDs off an old Chinese shop owner when he isn’t at home watching them, or asleep, dreaming about them. His dreams take him into a tale of the Monkey King — the ancient character of Chinese folklore, originally conceived four hundred years ago as an allegory for the fabled monk, Xi You Ji.

The film borrows particular elements of the legend — the king’s rebellious nature, and his defiance of authority — but twists them to suit its plot. Instead of earning the wrath of the Jade Emperor, the Monkey King’s pluck gains him favor among the powers on high, until he is betrayed by the Jade Warlord, and cast into stone. Upon his imprisonment, he flings his magical staff far from the kingdom, to await its return by a prophesied warrior.

Naturally, upon visiting the shop for more DVDs, Jason stumbles on to the old bo staff. On his way to school, some punks rough him up and discover his haul of illicit media. They force Jason to let them into the shop, where they proceed to search for cash, trash the store, and shoot the owner. As the owner struggles, he pushes the staff into Jason’s hands, and breathes an order — return this to its rightful master. As he escapes the pursuant punks, Jason falls, and somehow plummets into ancient China.

Once in China, Jason quickly meets the rest of his fellowship, intercut with ample opportunities to see Jackie Chan and Jet Li work their own fun and fabled magic. Fight choreographer Wu-Ping Yuen delivers, as usual, though he does recall in places the tired duels of Neo and Smith.

Themes of revenge, courage and immortality rear their familiar heads, but the filmmakers wisely avoid the temptation to force feed their points. Plenty of fighting, plenty of war, and the plot sticks to stock development. In a few places, it even recalls The NeverEnding Story. Fifteen minutes in, a discerning viewer can probably piece together most of the plot, and its resolution. The script doesn’t ever reach a significant level of depth, but it never aspires to. It manages to land a couple successful twists, if one were not so inclined to check out IMDB before heading to the theater, that is. Otherwise, even those secrets are easily spoiled.

Its one gaffe might rest on the lazy inclusion of a crucifix, which hangs around the neck of — you guessed it — the greasy punk who likes to beat up our hero. Yet, considering hoodlum and gang iconography, one could argue for its accuracy. Kingdom treads comfortable waters. It neither challenges, nor instructs, but it does provide an escape, at least worth the price of a matinée if you’ve got a couple hours to kill. Folklore nerds and kung-fu geeks will likely get the most out of this one. Everyone else be sure to check your brain at the door.

(photo (c) Lionsgate)

Written by taj

April 20, 2008 at 1:15 am

Indiana Jones and the Cutting Room Floor

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Hollywood Elsewhere reports Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is locked and ready to roll (HT: Looking Closer Journal) with a running time of 140 minutes plus. That makes this the longest Indy adventure of the four.

Fan chatter likes to go back and forth over issues like this, but the running time indicates little except for, well, the length.

There was an interview Steven Spielberg gave some time ago where he said his cut of Raiders ran a little over two hours. Lucas trimmed it down to 115 minutes. The trims, Spielberg had said, covered mainly the opening approach to the Hovito idol, and the climax involving Belloq open the Ark. Spielberg had envisioned a grand operatic/special effects blowout. Lucas made it leaner, he said, and the film was better for it.

140 minutes might feel a long way from lean. But some stories require more time to develop, and the magic of making a longer film work sometimes depends what ends up on the cutting room floor.

The perception of time when watching a film is very elastic. Theater houses and studios prefer shorter running times for their films to allow them to play more times in a day, and thus, earn more dollars. Or so the thinking goes. Dances with Wolves, however, upset that paradigm for the first time in decades with its release in 1990.

Its theatrical cut runs about three hours, though a recent DVD release of an extended cut of the film allows audiences a look at what dir. Kevin Costner originally left out. The new cut pushes four hours, involving minor, more character defining subplots. And it’s a bloated mess.

James Cameron obliterated the paradigm with the success of Titanic, a film he previewed for test audiences three times before settling on the final cut. Among the first complaints he received about the film involved its length — 202 minutes. Only two of the 20 people pulled aside at the final preview said it was too long. His final cut lands only seven-and-a-half minutes shorter than the first one he screened.

While less is usually more, sometimes the opposite is true. The theatrical cut of The Abyss – another Cameron epic – runs about 140 minutes. It’s a decent cut, awkward in places, particularly the ending. The story itself doesn’t really fit into one mold. It’s an undersea adventure that’s part sci-fi, part love story, part Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Cameron only previewed the film once. His audience had come indoors from a 110 degree heat wave to sit in a theater with a broken air conditioner and watch a film that pushed three hours. Feedback wasn’t exactly positive; as a result, Cameron cut 45 minutes out of the film.

In1992, Cameron went back and restored those 45 minutes on a laserdisc release. And the result is a far superior film. The middle and third acts find much greater context, especially the climactic moments involving one man’s selfless love standing in the gap for all humanity – a theme the original cut had excised completely.

A 140 minute running time takes Crystal Skull out of the typical Indiana Jones mold (the previous three installments have all kept to roughly the same length), but doesn’t bear any significance on the perceived strength of the film. Spielberg can handle a 140 minute picture. Take a gander at the trivia list over at IMDB – this film’s in good hands. I doubt it’ll disappoint.

(Quick note: many of the facts involving Titanic and The Abyss were pulled from Paula Parisi’s excellent book, Titanic and the Making of James Cameron, New York: Newmarket Press, 1998 )

Written by taj

April 17, 2008 at 8:05 pm