Saturday, March 27, 2010

Movie Review: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

lisbeth The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a brilliant Swedish crime thriller based on the first in the popular Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering without trace. Her uncle believes she was murdered by a family member and has been receiving an annual gift of framed flowers from various places around the world. The body has never been found. He employs Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a journalist who has been convicted of slander and is waiting for his prison sentence to start. He is joined by punk computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) when events coincide to bring them together. As they investigate the disappearance, they begin to uncover an appalling family history and their lives are placed in increasing danger.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an incredibly intense, atmospheric crime thriller that is totally engaging with the 2½ hours seeming to go in an instant. The story is superbly developed with the revelation of what is going on at just the right moment.

The standout performance is Noomi Rapace who plays the punk computer hacker, Lisbeth, with great depth and nuance. She is compelling and the personal history and current circumstances of her life are shocking as we learn more about her character's background leading to profound emotional scarring and baggage. Lisbeth is one of the most intriguing, fresh, complex heroines to come along in crime fiction. In fact, the character of Lisbeth Salamander is almost more interesting than the story of the movie itself!

The direction is spot-on with the cold, oppressive Swedish winter providing an apt backdrop to the unfolding events. The music eerily and suspensefully supports the narrative.

I haven't read the book on which this movie is based. But I have to say that, after watching the movie, I'm sorely tempted to do so. The movie is, at times, very hard to watch as much of it is very disturbing — particularly what Lisbeth has to bear to survive her life. One of the core themes of the movie is violence against women and no punches are pulled in representing this. The original Swedish title of the book was "Men Who Hate Women" and is, perhaps, a more apt title for the themes of the story.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the most compelling crime thrillers I've seen in a long time...


Positive Review
'A compelling thriller to begin with, but it adds the rare quality of having a heroine more fascinating than the story.' - Roger Ebert/Chicago Sun-Times

Negative Review
'Though Ms. Rapace is a fine professional scowler, with cheekbones that thrust like knives and a pout that’s mostly pucker, she tends to register as an intriguing idea instead of a thoroughly realized character. She more or less looks the part that the filmmakers don’t let her fully play.' -

Manohla Dargis/The New York Times


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Movie Review: Green Zone

Green Zone

Released: 2010

Go to IMDb page

Information ©

Green Zone is great entertainment with a message of substance.

Matt Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller who leads a number of raids in Iraq on sites that are suspected of hiding weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Each time nothing is found and Miller begins to wonder why — particularly when casualties start mounting up. He starts to question the intelligence reports coming in and speaks out publicly in a briefing. He is basically told to mind his business and get on with his job. After meeting with a CIA man with long experience in Iraq and a New York newspaperwoman whose articles supported the US claims of WMD in Iraq, Miller begins to think the intelligence has been deceitfully constructed for political reasons. He becomes involved in a complex series of actions to make sure that the deceit surrounding the justification of the war under the guise of finding WMD is brought to light.

Green Zone is a very fast-paced action thriller that has a complex but easily followed plot line. The fact that the story intersects with contemporary themes and facts makes it highly relevant — even if it is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Green Zone, it must be remembered, is fiction despite its allusions to well-known history. But it's a fantastic ride and makes a very significant point about the treatment of the Iraqi army and the desperate need that people have in Iraq to make their own choices.

Whatever the faults of Green Zone), they are overshadowed by superb pacing, excellent camera work, great storytelling, and gritty realism. Peter Greengrass, the director, brings all his action skills from previous movies The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Supremacy and ties them to a story that unabashedly confronts the political situation surrounding the war in Iraq. Real life characters such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Iraqi politician Achmed Chalabi, have fictional counterparts in the movie.

The beauty of Green Zone is that the message of the movie doesn't overwhelm the entertainment of a great thriller. It kept me on the edge of my seat for its nearly 2 hour length. Loved it!


Positive Review
"It is a thriller, not a documentary. It's my belief that the nature of the neocon evildoing has by now become pretty clear. Others will disagree. The bottom line is: This is one hell of a thriller.' - Roger Ebert/Chicago Sun-Times

Negative Review
'Green Zone is an exercise in commercial cowardice masquerading as a thriller about political bravery.' - Ray Greene/Boxoffice Magazine

Content Advice
Violence and language


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review: The Next Reformation

Many Christians believe the term postmodernism is a dirty word. Not Carl Raschke who argues in his book The Next Reformation that evangelical Christians must '...embrace postmodernity' (the subtitle of the book).

For Raschke, evangelical thought is in crisis as it is challenged by postmodernism. Postmodernist thought has changed our culture and, according to Raschke, '... has only recently begun to pound at the door of evangelical thought and faith.' (p. 11) The door has been answered by a number of evangelical authors with perspectives that are dismissive, misinformed, or misrepresentative of postmodernist thought, as far as the author is concerned. The evangelical reaction to postmodernism is, according to Raschke, because '[p]ostmodernism is saying what we really do not want to hear. So we pummel the messenger and deny the message.' (p. 48)

The first half of The Next Reformation takes us on a somewhat dense history of the development of postmodernism. This is meaty stuff which will be quite mind-bending for some readers. But with perseverance, it is a very interesting and insightful summary of the people and ideas underpinning what has come to be called postmodernism. There is no doubt that Raschke knows what he is talking about — his philosophical and theological expertise shine through and yet he writes engagingly and informatively.

One of the major postmodern criticisms of evangelical theology is that it has concretised it into a reductionist set of abstract propositions that claim to contain absolute truth. But, as Raschke pointedly declares,

God is holier than any theology. Theology depends on the parceling out of reality in nominative quanta of formal language and draws on the categorical schemes of Greek metaphysics. Theology ends where faith begins. (p. 57)

In other words, evangelical theology has not provided the space for genuine faith to be experienced because of its obsession with objective propositions of truth. In fact, Raschke goes so far as to accuse theistic representations of God as 'not only inadequate, but when they pretend to be adequate, they become idolatrous.' (p. 58) For Raschke, whether speaking of the left or right of Protestantism, it has,

with its denominational, ministerial, and ecumenical councils, its political action committees, its preoccupation with palaces proffered as church buildings, its elaborate financial schemes and fund-raising—has swallowed the theology of glory with one gargantuan gulp. It has buttressed these totally worldly ambitions with a regal rationalism that aggrandizes the institution of the church and its claims at the expense of broken souls crying out for grace and forgiveness. (p. 110)

It is hard to disagree with Raschke's analysis of the state of institutional Protestantism.

Over and against all the criticisms of postmodernism coming from the evangelical camp, Raschke believes that 'postmodernism is congenial with evangelicalism' (p.21) and desperately needs to embrace it if a new, much needed, reformation is to occur that will bring the grace and forgiveness for which so many yearn.

In the second half of the book, Raschke turns to an explanation of how postmodernism can, in his view, lead to his vision of a 'new reformation'. In doing so, he tackles a number of core Protestant themes:

  1. Sola fide (faith alone)
  2. Sola scriptura (scripture alone)
  3. The priesthood of all believers
  4. Ministry
  5. Worship

For Raschke, Protestantism desperately needs to return to faith alone (sola fide). For the author, Protestantism has erected a theological and institutional tower of Babel in its attempts to reach toward heaven. But this has resulted in nothing more than a babble of confusion which needs to be abandoned. The idea that humans can arrive at objective, absolute truth expressed through one totalising metanarrative enshrined in one exclusive religion has, in the postmodern era, become totally dismantled. The many languages that try to name God and contain God within its narrow boundaries is, according to Raschke, 'a divine sign that the One whose name is above all names must be honoured not with sound and consistent theology, but with a contrite and humble heart.' He continues:

There is nothing that can please God except faith. The ruined tower is the only acceptable worldview in the eyes of faith. Within that worldview we behold an endlessly expansive horizon. That is the view from the desert. Faith, however, has no compulsion without content. Sola Fide is an empty cry apart from another Reformation dictum: sola scriptura (by Scripture alone). (p. 114)

When it comes to Scripture, Raschke sees the principle of sola scriptura completely destroyed and ineffective because of the doctrine of inerrancy—the common evangelical idea that the original texts of the Hebrew and Christian bibles are without error in their original autographs. As Raschke explains, the doctrine of inerrancy (which, thankfully, is not held by all Christians) is really the product of a desperate attempt to defend the Bible against critics and has led to a rationalist apologetic for the Bible's truth. This agenda has distracted believers away from the truth as it is manifest in a person (Jesus Christ) and located it in an idolatrous biblicism. Raschke explains that

The inerrantist demands that the whole story to be "true" as a tableau of impersonal facts, when in fact the facts themselves are signs of God's all-encompassing and awesome presence. Nothing about God is "impersonal." The inerrantist ... demands to be shown Scripture, when indeed the fullness of Scripture is the whole person of God in Christ. If that were not the case, then Jesus would have not gone to the cross. He would have simply written a better book. (p. 134)

Raschke's call for Evangelicalism to recover an experiential engagement with the God of the Book rather than with the Book itself would seem to be a timely and appropriate call if one surveys the battle over the Bible that has gone on over many decades in the US in particular.

When it comes to the priesthood of all believers (worshippers) the need is a return from hierarchy to relationality. People, nowadays, have very different views of authority and hierarchical structure than they used to. In a paraphrase of '... Hegel's epigram that the "real is rational and the rational real"...', Raschke makes the point that, for the postmodern Christian, '... Christian corporate life could be summed up as follows: the real is relational and the relational is real.' (p. 158) It is easy to see how congregations that do not take this shift seriously will slowly die from dwindling membership.

When it comes to postmodern ministry, Raschke, appeals for a sensitivity to modern culture in proclaiming the gospel of grace and forgiveness. While there are cautions needed to not merely accommodate to postmodern culture, there is a need to package evangelism in ways that are consistent with the way in which postmodern society thinks — there is no point in speaking if no one is listening because we speak and proclaim in ways that are foreign to the hearers. The modus operandi of modern culture is conversation rather than argument.

The greatest disappointment for me in Raschke's book is his chapter on worship entitled Dancing with the Lord: Charismatic Renewal and the Deconstruction of Worship. While there may be much of value in his discussion of the history and approach of the charismatic/Pentecostal movement(s) and the grounding of worship in activity of the Spirit, Raschke's approach is grounded in his own emotional experience of being "slain by the Spirit" in a worship service. There is no doubt that much evangelical worship needs to be revived. But surely that doesn't require an emotionalist subjectivist experience that is in danger of losing its moorings to reason altogether.

Overall, Raschke's book is an important perspective on postmodernism that is a corrective to the absolutist disdain shown to it by many evangelical Christians. It's a provocative, rigorous, intense conversation around important themes to Christians and the future of Christianity. While we may not wish to become quite as enamoured of postmodernism as this author does, there are important questions and perspectives that need to be seriously considered if Christians are going to renew their faith, their relationships, and discard the modernist idolatry that has removed the heart of the institutional Christianity of today.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Movie Review: Daybreakers


Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information ©

Daybreakers is a fresh take on the vampire mythology based on an interesting premise and is possible of evoking all sorts of thematic considerations.

Across the globe, humans have "turned" to become vampires desperate to live forever. But, of course, the more vampires there are the less humans are available for blood. And now the shortage has become a crisis. A large corporation has been harvesting human blood by capturing them and hooking them up to machines that drain it. This blood, because of the shortage, is being sold at premium prices. And the research is on to try to invent a synthetic blood when the true thing runs out. The hematologist working on the project is sympathetic to humans and motivates his research on the synthetic blood. However, he meets someone who has found a way to convert back from vampire to human which changes his view on finding a solution to the blood shortage. His changed views place him at odds with the corporation for whom money, rather than human value, is clearly the main aim.

Without deliberately giving anything away, the obvious themes for me were:

  1. The  incompatibility of light and darkness.
  2. Light as a means of healing.
  3. The need for death to live fully.

Light vs Darkness

One of the obvious themes in any vampire story is the way vampires have to spend their lives in darkness. Any exposure to light and they risk being  consumed by light and exploding to a permanent finality of unconscious death.

The Christian tradition often links light to the presence of God and, specifically, to the entrance of Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus is described as a light that judges those who live in darkness.

"... this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Other traditions also have much to say about light which often represents the light of knowledge or truth. In colloquial language we often declare, when coming to a realisation of something, that we have 'seen the light'!

It is not hard to see the relationship between the themes of light and darkness in vampire mythology. The vampire is not truly alive but "lives" a life of fear and avoidance of the reality of the light. When the light touches them, they recoil in horror at the potential to be destroyed by that light.

The philosopher Laurens van der Post describes the way in which,

[i]n a profound sense every man has two halves to his being; he is not one person so much as two persons trying to act in unison.  I believe that in the heart of each human being there is something which I can only describe as a "child of darkness" who is equal and complementary to the more obvious "child of light."

From a Christian perspective, humans have been "bitten" and "turned" — by nature they are children of darkness. We naturally run from the light because it exposes reality for what it is and that reality is not pretty! Outside of Christian traditions, it is common to conceive of humans as having a dark side. If we are to be truly human again we need to consider the next theme I see in Daybreakers — the need to come into the light to be healed.

Light as a means of healing

I don't want to say too much about this theme in the movie as it will spoil a significant element of the plot. Suffice it to say that, in the story, exposure to the light of the sun turns out to be significant in a way that is unexpected. Light as a means to healing is a very common theme, particularly in a large proportion of new age and gnostic perspectives.

In a Christian theological sense, to be fully human we must allow ourselves to be completely exposed to the light of Jesus Christ. Because of what Jesus has done for us in making it safe to come into the presence of God, we are able to endure the consuming light of God's presence which makes us fully human again. To come into the light exposes reality for what it is and allows an honest evaluation of where we are on our life journey.

In addition to light being a means of exposure, it is also often seen as a means of healing. The Greek god, Apollos, was associated with the sun and healing. Astrid Alauda has aptly described the sun as 'nature's Prozac'.

In essence, to be healed means we must confront the very thing that may, at first glance, be that which may harm us and which we may fear. But we need to let go and bask in that which brings healing and regeneration.

The need for death to live fully

One of the most intriguing questions raised by Daybreakers is the role of death in the human capacity to live life fully. The vampires' achievement of immortality does not necessarily bring happiness. In many religions, including the Christian, there is an assumption that the ideal life is one that is lived forever. But a non-ending life may have unexpected consequences.

A core proposition of Daybreakers is that unending existence may, in fact, completely undermine the joy of living and render the the pursuit of fulfillment a life of quiet desperation (to use Henry Thoreau's potent phrase). One meaning of eternal is 'exceedingly great or bad; -- used as a strong intensive.' ( In other words, maybe eternal life has more to do with the intensity of goodness experienced rather than the length of time. The Daybreakers story postulates that death is necessary if humans are to experience living with the intensity of experience that brings joy in the present. An everlasting life may, in fact, undermine the motivation required to live life to the full. An interesting idea!

These are just a few of the themes that come to mind after watching Daybreakers. I'm sure others will identify more. Daybreakers provides rich fodder for discussion and is, on the way to that, an entertaining narrative.


Positive Review
'A darkly stylish horror film.' - Joshua Rothkopf/Time Out New York

Negative Review
'Any higher intentions are brought crashing down by predictability, wooden characters, giggle-inducing attempts at scares (shrieking bats, anyone?) and cinematography so gloomy it should be checked for serotonin deficiency.' - Michael Ordona/Los Angeles Times

Content Advice
strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity


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