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As promised, the latest film in the Transformers series delivers.  ‘Bumblebee’ is a prequel set on America’s West Coast, in 1987. The film moves along at an engaging pace, is quaint and unexpected. High action scenes interweave with a smart storyline which is matched with a well chosen cast. Although debate about whether ‘Bumblebee’ is a prequel or a spin off, continues, the little that is wrong with this film, is outweighed by what the creators get right.

In a small list of highlights, the biggest was how the film succeeds as a prequel. As a flashback, ‘Bumblebee’ offers a solid start. Without offering spoilers, it’s enough to say that the storyline is consistent with the five Michael Bay films which came before it.

This is bolstered by careful attention to detail, such as when the Decepticon, Soundwave, makes his appearance for the first time. As with the first Transformer movies which brought the return of Peter Cullen’s classic voice to Optimus Prime’s, “Autobots. Roll out!” Soundwave’s[1] one scene, signature robotic voice command “Decepticon’s. Attaaaack!”, brings Transformers back to its classic 1980s roots.

Although he only has one scene, Soundwave is the only old Decepticon to be reintroduced to the series, while two, new muscle car/combat aircraft Decepticon’s, fill the role of antagonist. In addition, talented new actors provided a welcome change of scenery. This adds to the distancing of ‘Bumblebee’ with the (big star saturated screen presence of the) film’s predecessors.

In a short list of significant letdowns, the biggest was the absence of Steve Jablonsky. Having created the soundtrack for all six Transformers movies, his absence felt odd and inconsistent.  Without Jablonsky colouring the background with his now trademark Transformers sound, parts of the film felt empty. The careful insertion of some classic 1980s songs did not fill the void.

Italian film composer, Dario Marianelli may have excelled in period films like ‘Pride & Prejudice (2005)’, but he was a poor choice for the ‘Bumblebee’ movie.  The absence of Jablonsky stood out like the size of Megatron’s ego. Marianelli had big shoes to fill. He was working outside of his genre and it showed. The Bumblebee soundtrack is a letdown and the absence of Jablonsky is a huge loss for an otherwise excellent film. In the end, not one song in Marianelli’s soundtrack succeeds in matching Jablonsky’s ‘Tessa’, ‘Autobots’, ‘No Sacrifice, No Victory,  ‘Arrival to Earth’ and the haunting witty flow of ‘Cogman Sings’.

In attempting to answer why Marianelli, and not Jablonsky, it’s anyone’s best guess. My own would be that a) it was contractual b) the makers of Bumblebee wanted to make a clean cut between ‘Bumblebee’ and its predecessors c) Jablonsky was too masculine for a movie with a lead female character.

If the Hollywood Reporter and Cinema Blend are right, ‘Bumblebee’ is as much a “soft spinoff” as it is a prequel. If Transformers goes the way the Star Wars franchise has, and its creative direction is ideologically liberated from its original cinematic creators, then all three options are probable reasons for why Jablonsky was not invited to the table.

Another somewhat minor letdown was John Cena’s character. His character’s role starts out strong, but by the end of the film, his character’s presence in many of the closing scenes is purposeless and comical. Not only does Cena’s character descend into a mockery of the strong masculine role, it could also be viewed as a further attempt to paint male authority as buffoonish. With the current political zeitgeist, it’s hard not to see this is a veiled (passive aggressive) upper cut thrown by Hollywood, in the direction of Donald Trump, and all white heterosexual men in general.

However, to ‘Bumblebee’s’ credit, this particular downside to the film is balanced by the admiration and affection that the film’s protagonist, Charlie Watson (played by Hailee Steinfeld), has for her late father. Watson’s father is portrayed as an attentive, engaged, strong and loving parent, who is deeply missed; something that Hailee Steinfeld communicates to the audience with heartfelt precision. In addition to this, because ‘Bumblebee’ stresses the importance of a child having a mother and a father, the film presents a strong message about grieving and the importance of family as being a built around male and female; dad, mum and children. The main point being that Watson’s father cannot be replaced.

Despite hidden prejudices that could be drawn out from the film, ‘Bumblebee’ is an unexpected, fun, inspirational family film. ‘Bumblebee’ delivers. If Hollywood Reporter’s speculation that the film is a spin off, then the story line is left wide open, not only for further films, but a multiverse conversion of Hasbro’s line of related 1980s heroes and villains[2]. Something aptly coined by Graeme McMillan as the ‘Hasbroverse’.

If freeing Transformers from its original cinematic creators, in the same way that Star Wars has been liberated, I’m not all that optimistic about where the franchise will go.  Overall, ‘Bumblebee’ is an unexpected, fun, family friendly film, with all the Transformer action. Other than the obvious absence of a Jablonsky soundtrack, and a few minor letdowns in the development, and consistency of some characters, ‘Bumblebee’ is not just a great start to something fresh, it’s an exciting filler, as we wait for the finale to Michael Bay’s cinematic Transformer interpretation.


References:

[1] Voiced by Frank Welker (Megatron, Dr.Claw)

[2] E.g.: G.I Joe, Action Man & Transformers

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Disclaimer: I did not receive and remuneration for this review of any kind.

New Music: I Am They

January 11, 2016 — 1 Comment

I Am TheyPutting together a compilation of songs for a homeschool field trip is always a good reason to look for new music. This also gives me time to introduce the kids to older tunes and tune into what they’ve taken an interest in.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that music appreciation finds no small place in the heart of our home schooling. 

For example, during our morning’s devotional time I introduced them to the theatrics of AC/DC. There is no better song to illustrate the late-modernist attitude towards God, grace, His Word and human life, than “Aka Daka’s” simple mockery of that attitude in ‘Highway to Hell.’ The discernment sharpened on this anvil is priceless. (For the record, the song was not included in our road trip playlist. We did, however, make note of an advertisement about their Australian tour at the time.)

Which brings me to: ‘I Am They‘. I came across this band in October of last year. Since then, their song ‘From The Day‘ has been played repeatedly.

The album is also strong. It follows a consistent format that keeps to a particular sound. Their brilliant use of harmony stands them out from The Rend Collective and Mumford and Sons. Although they fall into that zone, within the hipster/folk rock category (if hipster-folk is even a genre?), I Am They are their own. If the band can resist solely residing in the safe harbour of the CCM industry and steer clear of being boxed into a “worship music only” label, I Am They will go far.


 

Official site: I Am They

Glistening silhouettes.
Cold metal, bolt, concrete and rivet.
Architectural cracks in time.
The right angle captures the moment,
the right click, unveils its soul.

Harbour Bridge & Opera House October 2015


RL2015

IMG_4810‘Many problems arise when eager Christians try to make concrete what God has left pictorial’
………………………………………………………….(Dickson & Clarke, p.85)

This artists impression of Revelation 11-13, comes out of notes from our current journey through the wonders of John’s testimony.

Although Revelation isn’t an easy book to walk through with teenagers and littler ones, the study is going well.

It’s been interesting to note the unusually high amount of distractions and frustrations that have hindered our path.

Call it coincidence or not. In general, one of the deep realities of this text is that it calls us away from ourselves, our comfort, our complacency and half-heartedness. So there’s bound to be some spiritual challenges that cross our path.

There is more to the unsettling way in which Revelation grabs us. More than the first response of our intellect and emotions allow. Sense experience only goes so far. Whether that be total rejection of John as a nut job, suspicion over any mythological lag of the era being conveyed or unquestioning acceptance that hypes up parallels to modern events without restraint.

One of the primary go to points for me when teaching this has been the caveat of not reading into the text. I remind myself constantly to fight easy assumptions that  link this number to that historical figure or that metaphor to any number of current events.To paraphrase many a theologian worthy of their qualifications: like the rest of the books of the bible, read as it is, Revelation reads us.

With this responsible frame, working through the text with our homeschoolers is bringing up some opportunities to recreate images and scenes. Just going with what John says, without adding anything to it via speculation, frees us to explore the large amount of activity John testifies to. It’s also meant that cross referencing the texts with other biblical texts.

Brief and simple introductions to the historical setting and language makes things easier. Free of confusing interpretations, teaching eschatology (end of the old in Christ/beginning of the new in Christ) gets a lot more exciting.

With the fog cleared, it’s easier to see that this book of hope is full of colour; adjectives and verbs, repetition and mathematically mapped out illustrations. Noting this helps when looking at the detail and care John has put into relaying what he has witnessed to the people of his day.

For us, a hypothetical example of the impact of John’s message on his audience might have been stated like this: Working with John’s ‘one third of all’ lists we put 1/3 of 6 billion people into a pie graph, then work the fractions into percentages. (Given time constraints we couldn’t do this with land mass of the earth or the oceans), but the reason for focusing on this brings home John’s point, a major and very physical event affects one third of the inhabitants of both continents and oceans.

Repetition of measurements are one of the most interesting aspects of Revelation. In some sense it gives a plausibility to the text. Meaning that Revelation cannot be easily written off as the ramblings of a madman.  John’s own words, “this calls for wisdom”(Rev.13:18), reflect a call towards a more cautious and sober approach to the text.

More than with Luke and Acts, in teaching Revelation I’ve been more aware of my own prejudices towards the text, both learnt and those imposed through popular views of Revelation. Including the popular mockery of society attached to it. Some of which is not unwarranted. I’m learning that part of teaching the text responsibly requires going into battle against these subversive lens’ and others like them.

Instead of finding something specific about the future, in Revelation, we hear of Jesus Christ, his people, his victory and how humanity is found, then rescued by God through His Son. We are told of a now and not yet. All speculation pales when put up against these facts present in the text.

Revelation is alive. John calls the Church to reform, tells his people of a war on Christians, and encourages them to endure persecution patiently. It’s a prophetic reminder that a history lived without the redemption of Jesus Christ is one bound and deceptively enslaved to sin’s constant downgrading of humanity on all fronts. John tells of how God answers us and directs our attention to the present and future hope we are gifted in the unconquerable, Jesus Christ – Christus invictus!

‘Unquestionably, the most common interpretative error in reading the symbolism of Revelation is to confuse the symbols of the book with its message. The symbols are not the message; they carry and embody the message…John wrote to awaken and shape the moral and religious imagination of Christians on his own day.’
(Achtemeier, Green & Thompson, p.562)

Source:

Achtemeier, P.J., Green, B.J., & Thompson, M.M. 2001 Introducing The New Testament Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing

Dickson, J.& Clarke, G. 2007 666 And All That: The Truth About The Future, Blue Bottle Books

I’ll file this one under contemplation and popular culture.

For one of our devotions this week, I decided to work outside the box. This deviation from our usual morning reflection, which is often guided by the Psalms or an encounter with the illustrious writings of Corrie Ten Boom, proved to be one of my better ideas.

I happened to stumble upon the Pluggedin, Movie Nights website from Focus on the Family. When there you can run a search for a variety 934786_589939031037058_258311857_nof worksheets that make for some seriously interesting theological discussions.

For example: a few weeks back we rented the movie ‘How to train your dragon’. Pluggedin ‘Movie Nights’ had this free high quality PDF worksheet, which as I was to discover, not only fit GVL’s criteria for art and theology, but also made for an engaging devotional time with my kids. We talked about how education helps us understand and at times correct our own misunderstandings (not too much unlike what happens in the movie).

This then lead to a deeper look at Paul’s understanding of the Armour of God in Ephesians 6:13-18. Which in turn was followed by an impromptu  imagination-fuelled crafting session (or should I say “weapon smithing” session?) using gaff tape, cardboard, masking tape, paint, laminated print outs and a whole lotta grace.

Here are the outcomes of our journey…

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 A solid-looking weapons cache.

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‘therefore put on the WHOLE armour of God, that you may withstand in the evil day, and having done all stand firm…fastening on the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel of peace…In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take up the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God…praying at all times’ (Paul, Eph.6:13-18)

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I get these moments of inspiration  and even though I am inclined to take all the credit, I need to acknowledge that  Father, Son and Spirit is our partner of possibilities, who with us,  works out this wonderful journey we term home-schooling.

This experience has reminded me of the important place and relevance art has in our devotional/contemplative life as Christians.

We are inherently predisposed to create and find meaning, gratitude, contentment, joy, and purpose in that activity. The point of contact which occurs between the Creator, who has graciously invited and gifted us, as His creature, is grounded in the Christ who summons humanity to participate with Him. For the biblical text is clear: that although we may choose to abandon God, ‘He desires to be God with us and for us; He does not want to be God without us’ (Karl Barth).

‘Jesus asks nothing of us without  giving us the strength to perform it (1959:xxxiii)…Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which men and women must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives man and woman the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his son, ‘you were brought at a great price’; and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us’ (Bonhoeffer ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ 1959:5)

‘Schools should not be boot camps for learning how to make a living. They should be places for learning how to make a life.’ (Elliot Eisner, ‘What do the Arts teach? 1998, Stanford University, 2003)

‘All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children…This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord’ (Is.54:13 & 17)

Apart from the comment in the video below, which falsely connects conservative thinking with fear, this summary is phenomenal.

No matter what side of the home-schooling debate you stand on, I think you’ll agree that fundamental freedoms are at stake. Their situation raises lots of questions for me, like:

a) Are  there no quality Christian schools in Germany?

b) Surely Germany is right to regulate schooling, given the depth of damage done by Fascism, and it’s lingering intellectual heritage?

Nevertheless, please pray for good outcomes for this family.