Sunday, September 30, 2007

Summer Book Reviews

In the wake of finishing my M.A. coursework, I did a lot of reading - of things I actually chose to read, not required reading. I've done up a bunch of short reviews, just like in the movie post.

The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block - 6/10
Yet another collection of modern, revisionist fairy tales. The difference between this and many other updated fairy tales is that, unlike her Weetzie Bat books, Francesca Lia Block has leeched all the magic out of the stories - there is still a sense of inherent wonder, however, an aspect of everyday enchantment (I retain my preference for the mixture of both everyday and otherworld enchantment in De Lint). Highlights include a Sleeping Beauty whose magical sleep is heroin induced, and a wolf who is all too real and familiar from the real world. I will admit that the jaded aspect of the characters tends to get old; one would hope we can still find a protagonist for fairy tales somewhere other than the underbelly of modern metropolitan society. Still, a work definitely worth reading for those who loved Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's adult fairy tale series of anthologies.

The Dragon Conspiracy: World of Eldaterra, Volume 1 by E.R. Moredun - 0/10
Don't judge this book by its cover, the only thing "The Dragon Conspiracy" has going for it, as an example of smart marketing. I'm living proof; "oooooh...look at the Dragon in the Jar..." If Moredun had written a book on viral marketing, he'd likely have done better - his notes at the end about how he concocted his own Dragon conspiracy was far more interesting than his narrative, which is unreadable trash. I couldn't finish, no matter how much I wanted to. The poorly written prose challenges the reader to stay focused on the action. The characters lack personal voices, and the action lacks suspense. Don't bother.

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire Book 1) by Naomi Novik 9.5/10
A wonderful alternate history of the Napoleonic war where dragons provide the aerial support for both sides of the conflict. Good swashbuckling fun written in an engaging prose that is evocative of the period it is set in without being cumbersome. Naomi Novik has created a wonderful secondary world and filled it with loveable characters both human and draconian; the death scene of one of the dragons brought tears to my eyes. Highly recommended.

The Warrior Prophet (Prince of Nothing Book 2) by R. Scott Bakker 8/10
A thoroughly adult heroic fantasy that strips all the romanticism from the genre without losing the grandeur. The moments of the sublime the heroes climb to are made all the richer for the atrocious horrors their antagonists are capable of. Selfishness is as common as selflessness, and Bakker writes in a beautiful poetic prose that forces the reader to savor each paragraph even when the action begs to skim ahead and find out what happens. Not for the faint of heart or prudish, but highly recommended nonetheless.

The Thousandfold Thought (Prince of Nothing Book 3) by R. Scott Bakker 6/10
R. Scott Bakker's third installment in the Prince of Nothing series should have been called "The Self-Absorbed Thought", since almost all the characters are narcissists, or under the sway of one. While this "realist" approach to the fantasy epic felt fresh in the first two installments, I found the third nigh unreadable due to the preponderance of the character's selfish actions; is anyone besides Achamian pursuing a higher goal here? As for Kellhus, the ostensible protagonist of the series, the unbeatable Messiah motif gets old really fast. It's why Superman doesn't really work once the origin and initial revelation is unpacked. If you can't beat him, there's no tension, and no one cares. If I want Philosophy, I'll take a class. While the first book was incredible and the second really well written, the third is simply beating a dead horse.

The Burning by Bentley Little 6.5/10
Inverting the cliche' "don't judge a book by it's cover", I picked up Bentley Little's "The Burning" for its cover art of a malevolent steam locomotive belching hellfire. This multi-thread ghost story telling four different stories with one common thread is an uneven read, at times working so well I nearly jumped at revelations coming around the bend of a page turn, at others being terribly predictable. That said, Little's work is a refreshing change from most popular horror, which attempts to explain everything in the final pages. There is none of Koontz's psuedo-rational explanations nor King's alien deus ex machina (although Little does cheap out at the climax to some degree). Instead, the supernatural is simply that, and unapologetically so, which is why I believe this was one of the funnest horror reads I've had in a while. I look forward to reading more of Little's work.

World War Z by Max Brooks 10/10
One of my most enjoyable reads in 2007. I listened to the audio version, which is also one of the best audiobooks I've ever experienced - the all star voice cast includes Mark Hamill and Alan Alda; I kept thinking..."I know this voice!". A documentary of the alt-history Zombie War, told by the survivors. Not literature, but thoroughly engrossing, ontologically complete and sometimes just plain fun for boys who like guns.

A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan 6/10
This particular Robert Jordan novel has been the Achilles Heel of me getting over the middle hump of this bloated fantasy series, but I was finally able to make it through, with the help of the unabridged audiobook off I actually found that listening to Jordan's prose (redundant or richly detailed depending on who you talk to) works better for me than reading it off the page. I did a little of both while reading this installment, and enjoyed it. I'm not a die-hard fan of the series, but I loved the first book -- it would be one of my top 10 fantasy novels for sure, but I have the same complaint as many...when will it ever end? I gained a new perspective while re-reading the first 6 books a while back, namely that reading a series like Wheel of Time is like watching a television series. In fact, I think that's the only sort of filmed adaptation that could be done of the books. Aside from the unnecessary (at least it seems so now) wounding of Rand by Padan Fain in the last few chapters, the book was a great "next step" for all the characters in the series. That said, Mat Cauthon's storyline is the one that I liked the most this time around. Rand was too moody and Perrin's too obtuse. And as a quick side note...why are only males ta'veren?

Planet X (Graphic Novel) by Grant Morrison 6/10
Grant Morrison continues to play with the universe of the X-men in fresh and powerful ways. Given the timing of the original release of the issues collected here, the storyline is timely and relevant. Jiminez is no Frank Quitely, but his artwork is definitely first rate.

The Waste Lands (Dark Tower Book 3) by Stephen King 6/10
Like the monster train on the cover, the third Dark Tower novel takes a long time to get going, but once it does, it rolls along at freight like speed and tension, bringing a satisfying close to cap a tedious opening which serves as a poor man's possible world theory and a typical King middle with a house that seems ripped off from Barker's "Thief of Always".

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling 9/10
A highly satisfying epic conclusion to a series that reminded many of us what it was to be a kid again, and then allowed us to grow up once more, along with Harry, Ron and Hermione. Among the delights are the copious cameos, as though the characters were coming to take their bow at curtain call; the book successfully says farewell to Harry and the world of Hogwarts in a way which brings closure, but also sends one back to the bookshelf for book one.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Summer movie reviews

While I haven't seen much in theaters this year, I haven't been idle when it's come to watching movies at home. Between children's films with Gunnar, the odd spare moment with Jenica, the Manly Monday Movies at Mike's (my church small group), and my thesis, I've been taking in a fair number of films. Here are the ones I watched (or viewed again!) this summer. I've rated them all on a 10 scale.

Casino Royale: A much needed restart for a franchise that had sunk to relying on the cheap gadgets, one liners and Bond girls to keep it going. Casino Royale reminds us what the Bond films were originally about. True to the heart of the books, not the letter. Daniel Craig has me saying "Sean who?" 10/10

Children of Men: A powerful story told with a grimly beautiful aesthetic; one of the best movies of 2006, and another reason to be paying attention to what Alfonso Cuaron is up to. 9.5/10

Click: Less dog humping, more serious Sandler. This film had the potential to be Sandler's "Stranger Than Fiction" which was funny without being puerile, and touching without resorting to overwrought soundtrack swells for emotional impact the picture lacked. The scenes with Walken were great, the movie had good potential, but too much dick and fart humor ultimately makes it standard fare instead of a cut above what Sandler is usually capable of. I loved the premise, and some of the ideas were good, but the delivery was too locker-room for me to highly recommend it. Worth a watch, but just barely. 4.5/10

Dragonslayer: A classic piece of pre-Jackson LOTR fantasy film. The special effects were cutting edge for the time it was released, and the dark tone of the film was a bold move on Disney's part, as the film company was still predominantly known for it's bright and chipper children's films. A wonderful film, even after all these years. 8/10

Glory Road:
Remember the Titans does Basketball. A decent feel-good film for when you're feeling like you need something idealistic to pick you up. 6/10

Jet Li's Fearless: A beautifully filmed and choreographed martial arts swan song from Jet Li. While the story is based on the actual life of Huo Yuanjia, the movie is less about history than Li's Tibetan Buddhist beliefs surrounding the way of combat being about peace, and the avoidance of violence rather then the perpetuation thereof. Recommended for those who enjoy this genre. 7/10

First Blood:
The initial installment of the Rambo franchise stands alone as the only part really worth seeing. It sparked a flash fire of trashy carbon copies and boosted sales of Soldier of Fortune, which mar the film's legacy. However, as a standalone work, the film endures the test of time with a pre-action hero Stallone turning in a very capable dramatic performance. 8/10

The Host:
A daring resurrection of the Giant Monster Movie which is more complex than meets the initial viewing. What is likely to be dismissed as simply another giant monster flick from the East is actually a complex commentary on current issues, just as the genre's seminal work, Godzilla was. Instead of atomic metaphors, the subject matter is a stew of ecological, political and familial. Broken homes, a mutated fish and fragmented rhetoric all combine to make this a film that, unlike some less informed viewers have stated, a film that ought to be taken seriously. That said, "The Host" is enjoyable for all the reasons a good giant monster movie should be. However, like the poster, which would lead one to believe the monster is a giant squid, there's much more in this film than what's on the surface. Highly recommended. 10/10

The Illusionist: A sepia toned tale of magic and perception in the tradition of films such as "The Prestige" or "Memento". However, where "The Prestige" ends on a downbeat, the Illusionist closes on a hopeful, optimistic note. A very satisfying film with a competent cast. 8/10

Mad Max:
Thank God for the special edition DVD with the original Australian dialogue. This is a great, high-octane take on the classic Spaghetti western plot, set in a dystopic future some time just around the corner. Has lots of great hip late 70's Aussie slang and a cast that looks like they just rolled in from being on tour. 7/10

Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest:
Watched it again with my wife, who missed out when it was in theaters. I was pretty hard on this film when it came out, but the second viewing was better than the first. It's a light hearted romp that places action set piece after action set piece; in this way it pays homage to the serials of the 30's. Watching it in hour long chunks didn't hurt either, as it gets tedious in one sitting. Definitely not as good as the first, but worth a see nonetheless. 6/10

The Pursuit of Happiness:
Wonderful father-son story of overcoming all obstacles. Will Smith demonstrates why he's one of the most celebrated entertainers in North America. Make sure and bring something for when the tears start to flow. 8/10

Silent Hill: Phantasmagoric ambience is the real star of this video game adaptation. Brilliant visuals, disturbing imagery and soundscapes make the first hour an immersion into nightmare. The last hour loses steam however, and the 'twist' ending is typical horror fare. Worth seeing just for the visuals. 7/10

Stranger Than Fiction: Brilliant. Poignant, insightful, and for someone who uses video as a teaching tool, utterly quotable. More of this Will, less Talladega. 10/10

The Sword and the Sorcerer: This film is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. A low budget is really the only thing this film suffers from; the campy lines, the musical fanfares and the over-the-top acting and storyline are all perfect! You can't go wrong with a triple bladed sword! 6/10

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders:
Czech new wave pastiche of horror, gothic fairy tale and softcore erotica. The non-linear narrative explores feminine sexuality through a young girl's journey into adolescence. A beautifully filmed, artfully disturbing, surreal adult fairy tale. 7/10

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I've been reading this webcomic for years, and creator Tatsuya Ishida has never lost his ability to hit the nail on the head of life for the strip's duration. While he's rarely full on laugh out loud, he's often philosophically poignant in a way that makes me nod and smile. Or in the case of the strip below, get a big grin about Jesus getting ready to focus his Cross Chi and smoke the devil girls with the power of Agape Love.

It's like reading Living Buddha Living Christ with a grown up Calvin, the pig from Liberty Meadows, rejected cast members from Jack Chick tracts, a Chinese dragon, and a Lord of All the Universe who talks in calligraphy balloons and mocks Satan with hand puppets.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mike Perschon is...into witchcraft

"I've had all I can stand and I can'ts stands no more!" - Popeye

A few years back after I wrote an article for Youthworker Journal called "Desert Youth Worker: Disciplines, Mystics and the Contemplative Life". In it, I shared my journey with the classic spiritual disciplines and my experimentation with forms of contemplative prayer. In that article, I wrote the following paragraph:

"I started using the phrase "listening prayer" when I talked about my own experiences in meditation. I built myself a prayer room—a tiny sanctuary in a basement closet filled with books on spiritual disciplines, contemplative prayer, and Christian mysticism. In that space I lit candles, burned incense, hung rosaries, and listened to tapes of Benedictine monks. I meditated for hours on words, images, and sounds. I reached the point of being able to achieve alpha brain patterns, the state in which dreams occur, while still awake and meditating."

Shortly after its publication, the editor warned me that the Lighthouse Trails Research Project would be contacting me. Youthworker Journal has a policy to forward complaints (as well as praise) to the writers of the offending or inspiring piece. Later that day I received an email calling me to repentance from my New Age practice of contemplative prayer. The email included a lengthy attachment which outlined the history of this insidious practice as well as a list of the nefarious hooligans who engaged in it. I was already familiar with the history of it, as it had been one sentence in my Christian history text regarding Christian mystics which had sent me running after class to the library to dig further and find out more on the subject. I'd been reading the works of these mystics for nearly 10 years, so my response to the document was to kindly thank Lighthouse Trails for pointing me in the direction of a few books I hadn't read on the subject, as well as a plethora of quotes by some of my favorite Christian writers.

Lighthouse Trails then granted me online notoriety by placing the above quote on one of their web pages, denouncing Youth Specialties (the publisher of Youthworker Journal), YS President Mark Oestreicher and of course, yours truly. Lighthouse Trails (which I will henceforth simply refer to as LT for simplicity) would later collectively decry Richard Foster and myself, and in a bold and daring move, use a different quote than the one above.

I say it's a bold and daring move, because I've discovered since then, if you google my full name, you will get the following links which all utilize the same quote about alpha patterns...over...and over...and over again.
Contemplative Spirituality
Christian Answers for the New Age
Let Us Reason
Contemplative Spiritual Formation
One Truth Ministries

The No Goofy Zone Discerment Ministry, seriously, that's really what it's called.
NC Bible Church - A PDF heresy is on page 36. To their credit, they actually seem to have read my article, as opposed to copying and pasting LT's conclusions.
Christian Worldview Network
Discernment Resource
And my favorite, Parenting With Purpose, which calls me a leader of the Emergent Church movement. I get a kick out of the way I'm presented on these sites; it sounds like I go for coffee with Rick Warren (check out page 32 of this document to see how Rick and I are co-conspirators in this New Age plot), Richard Foster, Len Sweet and Brian McLaren on a regular basis. Don't I wish. These groups are so dedicated to stamping out contemplative prayer practices that they'll translate me into German, just to make sure I don't pollute any of my Deutsch brothers and sisters.
And while the document is no longer online, I am terribly fond of the one which called me a "New Age Christian to Beware Of" as it lumped me in with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. That's never going to happen again, I'm sure...

As if all that weren't enough, I came across this review of Ray Yungen's book, "A Time of Departing" over at the, where Sam Blair noted that Mr. Yungen "reserves his deepest criticism for Youth Specialties writer Mike Perschon, who described his own interest and involvement with meditation. At one point Yungen notes that Perschon describes his meditation as being able to achieve “alpha brain patterns (p176)”, a sort of lucid dreaming state. Yungen equates this alpha state with a kind of “alpha consciousness” described by Laurie Cabot, a Wiccan." I was curious, and wanted to see exactly what Ray had written about me, so I ordered his book from Sam had summed it up nicely, but I think it can be stated a little stronger. Ray implies I practice witchcraft. Or at least, that's what I infer from page 177 of the book where he writes:

"Many of those involved in the emergent movement would cry out in protest, "Now, wait a minute--Perschon is not into witchcraft. He is a devoted Christian trying to walk deeply with the Lord. He hates anything to do with darkness or the occult. How dare you compare him with Laurie Cabot!" But Cabot, in one of her statements, makes the very point of my whole book when she says:

'Mystics in every religious tradition speak of alpha states of consciousness and the lure of Divine Light, although they do so in their own metaphors and images.'"
(Yungen 177, italics mine)

There you have it. Because Laurie and I use the term alpha states/waves/patterns, I am Wiccan. Or maybe she's Christian? Hmmm...

The irony here is that Yungen drives home his point with a Wiccan definition of Alpha patterns. It's the very thing he crucifies people for throughout his book, namely that they quote someone Yungen defines as being part of the New Age movement. It's guilt by association.

Now if Mr. Yungen had really wanted to pin me down, he wouldn't have to use Laurie (I like to use her first name, as we ostensibly belong to the same coven) to do it. After all, I love Harry Potter, play games like Dungeons and Dragons, and have had my tarot cards read by an actual witch!

I must confess, I was rather excited to find out that I'm a witch. Or a wizard. Whatever. But it's already halfway through September and I still haven't received my invitation to study at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I'll admit, I'm a little disappointed. I was really looking forward to buying a wand at Ollivander's...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Upcoming Films I'm Anticipating

Earlier this year, I made a list of films I was looking forward to seeing. Out of the 7 I listed, 4 have been released, and I have seen only 2 of them (Transformers and 300). It's the way life is when you have a toddler. Having seen some more trailers and heard the buzz on other films coming out this fall that I was unaware of back in January, I thought I'd amend my list.

First, I want to say that given the trailer for Beowulf, I'm not as excited as I once was. It looks like once again, the revisionist mindset has taken to making yet another alternative to the classic Beowulf tale. I have news for all the filmmakers who have done this. It isn't an ALTERNATIVE if there hasn't been a conservative version made. I'm sure the film will be visually spectacular and may even be very engaging, but I'm just a little tired of wanting my heroes to just be heroes. So I'm scratching it from the list. I'll wait for DVD, unless someone convinces me otherwise.

30 Days of Night, which features vampires in the arctic during the season of perpetual night (an idea every aspiring horror writer has kicked about) and Stephen King's The Mist join I Am Legend as the horror films I'm very excited about in 2007. With Frank Darabont, the most successful adapter of King's works to film (Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) finally taking on one of the horror writer's more terrifying pieces (a very creepy short story from "Skeleton Crew"), I'm eager to see how things come out. The trailer gives me the creeps, so that's a good sign.

I'm also interested in Disney's Enchanted, which seems to be a self-parodying work, mocking the classic fairy tale work the studio has done over the past 80 years. Given the nature of my thesis on fairy tale film, I know what the lion's share of criticisms about Disney's adaptations are, and will be curious to see if this film addresses any of them. Looks like fun at any rate.

The child inside me is also in anticipation of a few other pieces that will likely wait for DVD, but are a pleasant surprise to see coming to the screen nonetheless, including the cinematic version of children's book series The Dark is Rising. With the success of Harry Potter, I suppose everyone is scrambling for their piece of the fantasy pie. I can only hope these adaptations are as good as I've felt the Potter series have been, and not of the grade Ella Enchanted was. Add to this the expensive B-movie release Dragon Wars, which is like watching a Toho film brought up to CGI speed - looks dumb as hell, but will be worth its weight in popcorn, I'm sure.

Now if I can ever just get out to actually see anything.