Facebook Links #2

Worthwhile articles I shared on Facebook in February and March, with excerpts to give you a taste for each of them, although of course I recommend you read the complete articles:

“Imagining Sisyphus Happy: A Groundhog Day Retrospective” by Ali Arikan – Slant Magazine: The House Next Door (blog), February 2, 2009

“Bill Murray’s delivery makes a lot of things more powerful in Groundhog Day. Phil comes to terms with the pointlessness of time just as, paradoxically, he does with his self worth when he notices, for the first time in what may very well be years, an old vagrant he passes by on the street. He buys him a meal, which turns out to be his last. The old man’s time has come, but that does not deter Phil from trying to save him, even though he fails every single time. Watch as Murray gives the best delivery of his career as a nurse tells him that ‘sometimes people just die.’ ‘Not today,’ he says. This scene is crucial to Phil’s eventual transformation. Earlier, Murray goes through the various circles of grief with relative ease (has there been a more cheerful approach to modern man’s suicidal tendencies) that we forget how, in lesser hands, the part might well have foundered. In fact, imagine, if you dare, how this film would work out in today’s Hollywood cinema. There would have to be a spiritual guide of sorts, one that would give meaning to Phil’s ordeals…But Phil’s problem is not so much spiritual as it is existential, and Groundhog Day is an incredibly secular film—upon his initial discovery of his predicament, Phil, like any normal person, first goes to the doctor, and when that fails, he goes to see a psychiatrist. During none of his trials does Phil ever feel compelled to visit a holy man. The only time we ever see a church is when Phil commits suicide by jumping off the bell tower. It’s a powerful image.”

Super Mario Bros. 3

“Ask Chris #141: How ‘Super Mario Bros.’ Works” by Chris Sims – Comics Alliance, February 15, 2013

“It’s natural that this is a story that the Toads would be telling each other, and that they’d want to hear more of, and since the Mushroom Kingdom doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of movie theaters, turning that epic adventure into a play seems like a natural fit. They just need to make it a little more exciting for the stage. When you get right down to it, that’s really what Mario 3 is: The same basic story of Mario 1 (run to the right, save princess), but embellished and expanded so that it’s a little less repetitive. You can see the Toad director and screenwriter giving each other a sidelong glance as Mario casually explained ‘So then I went to the SEVENTH castle and she wasn’t THERE, either,’ and deciding that what this story really needed was some airships. So they threw some in, thought up a few exotic locations with more visual appeal, gave Bowser some plucky henchmen and turned the Princess’s kidnapping into a third-act plot twist.”

“In Defense of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds” by Devin Faraci – Badass Digest, February 19, 2013

“Wells was writing at the height of British colonialism, and his Martian invasion was a brutal allegory for the way technologically advanced Brits would descend upon more primitive peoples and annihilate and enslave them. The Martian red weeds can be read as British culture spreading in occupied nations like India, trying to overtake the indigenous traditions. Wells’ argument is that colonialism is doomed to failure; even if the people themselves don’t rise up and defeat the invaders, the very environment itself will do so. Those weeds cannot take hold. The suicide bombing scene also clearly explains what asymmetrical warfare is, and why it works. When attacked conventionally, the Tripods are invulnerable. But when approached with both subterfuge and a suicidal will, even the most invulnerable machine may be toppled. Spielberg deftly (maybe a little too deftly, as it seems people sometimes miss this point) puts us in the position of identifying with people who would lay IEDs and would strap explosives to their chests and walk into military bases. Who can fault Ray for his actions? How else can humans possibly hope to strike against the far advanced Martians? In this light, these actions are simply heroic, not the work of crazed terrorists.”

“No Beauty without Ash: The Paradox of True Christian Art (or, getting ready for Easter)” by Brandon Ambrosino – Peter Enns’ blog, February 27, 2013

“Whenever we downplay the horror of the crucifixion for the more pleasing story of the Resurrection, we fall into the trap of sentimentalism…Every time Easter is celebrated, it must be discovered as an event that does not erase the memory of the crucifixion, but that redeems it…[W]e must equally commemorate the darkness of Friday’s agony, the anxiety of Saturday, and the unexpected surprise of Sunday. The process of these three days must set the model for Christian art. Beauty without horror is kitsch; horror without beauty is absurdity. The way forward for the Christian artist may culminate in Sunday, but that way passes through — indeed must pass through — the grotesque despair of the entire week…If we as Christian artists are to protect ourselves from sentimentality, we must always keep before our eyes the image of the risen Christ, reminding ourselves daily that even his resurrected body still bears wounds.”

“The Problem With Writing Off ‘Un-Christian’ Art” by Nick Rynerson – Christ and Pop Culture, March 12, 2013

“There is something distinctly Christian about the enjoyment of ‘non-Christian’ art. Whether it is a film from atheist Soviet Russia, an Enlightenment-influenced novel, or a song written by non-Christians, God is revealed through man’s creation of art because God’s creation of man is evident in the art…For Christians to enjoy art, it’s important that they know who God really is. For a disciple of Christ to find enough security in their identity to discern God’s presence in subtle, ‘non-Christian’ art and culture is a sign of spiritual life and vitality. Furthermore, it’s a great exercise in the pursuit of truth. Art can sharpen, confront, and comfort the soul, but not unless the ultimate comfort of Christ is already there. Having a robust theology will allow us to see God’s glory in ‘unorthodox art.'”

“The Urbanism of Superheroes” by John Powers – Star Wars Modern, April 29, 2010

“[The] Depression Era mash of eugenics, nationalism, and progress/self-improvement, when introduced into the settings of the already popular crime pulps, gave birth to two enduring strains of superheroes: those that are inhumanly-super, like Superman; and those that are merely humanly-super, like Batman. Each has a place, an urban setting. More than childhood trauma or costume choices, it is these negative spaces that surround the heroes that make them what they are…The realist pessimism of Gotham and the idealist optimism of Metropolis are attitudes about city life that have their origins in the very earliest moments of the modern world, but it is a false and outdated dichotomy…Batman is the Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli of comic books…Batman is humanly-super: stronger, smarter and faster, but also morally superior…For Batman to function, city dwellers must be reduced to vermin. Gotham is a portrait of the city as a rat’s nest…Superman is the Utopos of comic books, and Metropolis is the city-as-it ought-to-be…In Batman’s Gotham, human-nature makes the city a bad place. In Superman’s Metropolis, exactly like [Sir Thomas] More’s Utopia, it is the city that makes people bad.”

King Kong

“‘Like a Horrible Dream:’ Thoughts on the Mighty Kong” by John D’Amico – Homages, Ripoffs, and Coincidences, March 4, 2013

“What do we know about Ann? She’s poor and seems understandably wary of slimy men pawing after her. She used to act but the studio in Long Island closed. We meet her in New York as she tries to steal an apple from a street vendor. She faints and is whisked away by Denham to a diner, then, immediately, out to sea. She’s a desperate woman who is practically Shanghaied by Denham one night on a trip to a big dangerous island where she’s put on display. She wants to be an actress but becomes — literally — The Queen of the Jungle. What do we know about Kong? He lives alone and is constantly harassed by slimy creatures. He’s gas-bombed and faints. He’s whisked away by Denham to sea and put on display on a strange and dangerous island full of serpentine El trains, planes which buzz about him like the constant chatter of birds on Skull island, and huge dangerous cliffs. He wants to be King of the Jungle but becomes an actor. Some terrible things happened to Kong in those missing months, something raw and engineered to ‘take the fight out of him,’ and I believe Ann Darrow experienced a similar passage of time in New York before she encountered Denham. We all interpret the Ann/Kong thing as a love story, but what if it’s simply a bond of shared pain and degradation?”

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