Thursday, July 26, 2012


I don't do politics. I don't take stands. I pretty much float by on what I catch from headlines that I see on the internet.

Occasionally, something will really catch my attention and I'll read a real article thoroughly and I'll sit and think about it for a few seconds. But in this ADHD society, those serious thoughts tend to float away as soon as I catch sight of a butterfly outside my window.

Over the last day or so I've seen a lot of talk in the social media outlets about this hubbub over Chick-Fil-A and their conservative views versus the LGBT community. I don't know all the details. Frankly, from what I've seen, I'd be surprised if any one person in this country actually does have all the details. And I've wanted keep my opinions about this to myself because that's what I do.

When I say I don't take stands, it's not because I don't actually take a stand on certain issues. I just tend to keep those things to myself. My thoughts and feelings on our country's current political climate are my own. They're private and they're personal. Now, if you know me, then there's a good chance you know where I stand on a lot of issues that plague our nation. If you don't, you can keep guessing, because I'm not going to hash them out here.

What does bother me, and what I will stand against, is the obvious hatred that each side seems to have for the other because they have different beliefs.

You can come back at me and tell me that this isn't about one side hating the other all you want. I won't buy it for a second. If it simply takes one person to make a statement about their personal beliefs to enrage an entire community, there's a problem. And when the people who support that one person's statement become equally enraged in response to a community's rage, the problem only grows.

I hate politics. I hate the polarizing effect that so many issues have on our population. But I love America. I love that this is a country that was founded on the idea that each and every one of us is free. Remember how the Declaration of Independence says that we're entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? These are our God given rights as human beings.

I love the movie The American President. I think that Andrew Shepherd's speech at the end ranks right up there with Bill Pullman's speech in Independence Day. In it, he talks about flag burning. If you haven't seen it, one of the plot points is that President Shepherd's political opponent attacks Shepherd's girlfriend with a picture of her at a protest where an American flag was burned. Shepherd states, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest."

Don't get me wrong. I love the stars and stripes. I can't wait to see it lifted above a bunch of other flags next week when the US walks away with gold medals over and over again. But there is freedom in loving that symbol. And there is freedom in hating it as well.

American citizens are free to choose what they want to believe. If they want to believe in God, they have that right. If they want to believe that alien overlords provided human beings with fire, they have that right. If they want to vote for a Republican in November, they have that right. If they want to vote for a Democrat, they have that right. If they want to sit at home and do nothing on Election Day, that's their right too.

If your fellow American wants to stand beside you and believe what you believe, do you have a problem with that? Then why should you have a problem when someone stands against you to express an opposing opinion? Remember that the Constitution defends their rights, just as easily as it defends yours. We need to try and remember that before we simply decide to hate each other for living out our inalienable right to live freely and pursue happiness.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Of course I saw this movie. Why wouldn't I?

Let's look at the evidence: I'm a big geek. I read comics. I love movies. And when the two mix, that's just awesome. And look at Nolan's track record with these Bat-movies. Batman Begins was amazing. The Dark Knight was almost as amazing.

Don't get me wrong, Part 2 was really awesome. But I admit I have my issues with the overall story. I have some issues with the story in The Dark Knight Rises as well, but those issues don't take away from my opinion that this movie is an awesome end to a pretty definitive trilogy.

There be spoilers ahead. Seriously, if you haven't seen this movie and don't want to know the twists and turns in the plot details, stop reading. Right now. I mean it.

Now, for the rest of you who have either seen the movie already or flat out don't care about spoilers, here's what I think about the movie. Other than it was awesome. I won't do any kind of synopsis of the movie. I'd really rather just go into this thing as if I'm having a conversation with someone who has also seen it.

First of all, I'd like to go on record as saying that Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle was an excellent casting call. She stole pretty much every scene she was in. Appropriate since she played a notorious cat burglar. She had great lines which she delivered well and she looked incredible. But she was never actually called Catwoman in the movie. At least, I don't think she was. She was simply Selina Kyle, jewel thief.

Christian Bale was more of the same. I still think his voice is over the top, but it is what it is. I thought he did all right as a Bruce Wayne who's been out of the game for eight years.

Tom Hardy as Bane... hmmm... Okay, I'm one of those guys who would like to pretend that Batman & Robin never happened. And, therefore, the portrayal of Bane in that Bat-film would be null and void. This Bane was much better. He was more the Bane that was created in the comics as a character who would break the Batman. He was a master strategist and a physical powerhouse. The point of Bane's creation during the Knightfall story in the comics was to break Batman's body and spirit. He succeeded in doing so in the comics, and very nearly succeeded in the movie as well.

During the initial teaser trailer, a lot of people complained about Bane's voice. They said you couldn't understand what he was saying. I think I liked the confusing garble from the teaser more than the finished product heard in the actual film. I mean, I get why it was cleared up. He had a lot of important things to do and say. It really is important to the plot to understand what the villain is up to. I just couldn't get past the thing in my head that made me think it was just a bad impression of Sean Connery. I'm probably the only one that heard it that way.

But was Bane really the mastermind? Nope. He was doing it all for the love of a woman. A woman that the audience was supposed to think was one of the good guys. Marion Cotillard was great as a secret villain. Between Inception and this, I have to admit I'm developing something of a crush on the French belle. Through the majority of the movie, she was known to the world as Miranda Tate. In the climax of the story, she reveals herself to be Talia al Ghul, daughter of Batman Begins villain Ra's al Ghul. Did that blow your mind?

As a good comic book geek, I wasn't too terribly shocked by this revelation. I know that Cotillard and Nolan both said, repeatedly, that Miranda Tate was not Talia. But come on. Going into this thing, we knew that it was the final chapter of a trilogy. And what does the final chapter of a trilogy do? If it's a good one, it brings the story full circle and wraps it up in a neat little bow. That means we find that connection to the pivotal story of Batman Begins. They tried to make us think that Bane was the son of the demon for a while, but that's what those Hollywood types call a "red herring."

I would be remiss to leave out Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Detective John Blake. I thought this was a pretty nice origin story for this guy. I knew this kid was going places when I first saw Angels in the Outfield. But seriously, this John Blake character is someone I'd be willing to see in another movie. The set up for the detective to become Batman was perfect. I'm not sure how I feel about his legal name being Robin. I know it was meant to be another nod to the comics, but it seemed a little on the cheesy side.

I know that couldn't have just named him Dick Grayson. Or Jason Todd. Or Timothy Drake. These are all three characters who have been Robin to Bruce Wayne's Batman. But John Blake took on characteristics of all of those past Robins. He lost his parents at an early age, like Grayson. He grew up as an orphan in a boys' home, giving him the same tough exterior as Jason Todd, who grew up on the streets. Add the fact that Blake and Drake both deduced that Bruce Wayne is really Batman? You've got the makings of a likely candidate to inherit the cape and cowl.

Something we get with the comics is a Bruce Wayne that never ages. For 73 years, the guy has been dressing up as a bat and scaring the bejeezus out of Gotham's scumbag criminals. He's perpetually in his early to mid 30s. But in the real world, he wouldn't be able to carry on forever.

That's something that Nolan seemed to be doing with his trilogy. He kept the Batman grounded in a realistic world. When Batman disappears into the night at the end of The Dark Knight, he stays away for eight years. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne becomes a recluse for that same amount of time. He ages. His body begins to fail him after the abuse he put himself through in his years of training and the time he spent fighting crime.

This is something that Nolan made clear in Batman Begins. Bruce himself talks about how a man has limits. But a symbol can live on. This theme came up again in Bruce's conversation with Detective Blake. Anyone can be Batman. It doesn't have to be Bruce Wayne.

To have Bruce Wayne fake his own death and pass on the secret location of the Batcave to John Blake was a great way to end the story. Because for once, we've been able to see a definitive end to Bruce Wayne's story. He did what he set out to do. He created a persona that he was able to use to strike back at Gotham City's criminal element. And when it was time for him to stop, he was able to do so.

The Dark Knight Rises wasn't perfect. But the overall trilogy, I thought, was brilliant in its handling of the Batman story.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Question of the Month...

You are given a chance to return to any previous point in your life and change a decision you made, but you will lose everything that has happened to you since then. Is there a time you would return to? If so, would you like to retain the memory of the life you are giving up even though you could never recapture it?

I would go back to this morning and I would remember to pick up the mayo with the rest of my groceries. That turkey sandwich that I had for lunch would definitely not be as dry. And I think I'd be okay not having the memory of the dry turkey sandwich. It's caused nothing but disaster. Okay, serious answer... No, I don't think I'd want to change anything. Without getting into my whole "you can't change the past" theory of time travel, I just don't think any change would be that significant. I believe things happen for a reason, for better or worse. I like the person I've become, and I know that every event in my life has helped me to grow into who I am. And I'm okay with that.

*Question of the week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Great and Powerful

I love The Wizard of Oz. I grew up loving the movie. When I was old enough to read, I read the book. Not only that, I've probably read through the thing more than a dozen times. It's my favorite fictional story of all time. L. Frank Baum's sequels are hit or miss in my eyes, but worth checking out nonetheless. And now there's a prequel film that's being released next year. It stars James Franco as the Great and Powerful Oz and Michelle Williams as Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz star as characters named Theodora and Evanora, respectively. I can only assume they will turn out to be the Wicked Witches, who weren't originally named. One of them would eventually turn green. The other would be crushed by a house.

I know, you're probably wondering why I haven't read Gregory Maguire's Wicked series. I'm sure I'll get around to it. I haven't seen the musical based on the first book either. I want to get around to that too. Honestly, I attempted to read Wicked many years ago. I got bored with it and put it away. Try not to judge me too harshly. I was still in college and had a pretty short attention span when it came to the things I was reading.

Anyway, here's the trailer for Oz: The Great and Powerful, which will be released two days after my next birthday. You know, in case you're looking for gift ideas. Like movie tickets.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

I remember when I first heard that Warner Bros. was in the process of making Batman Begins. I actually laughed at the idea. Maybe it wasn't so much a laugh as it was a snort of derision. But could you blame me? Batman & Robin sucked. And it had only been a few years since that stinkfest hit the theaters in 1998. Sure seemed way too soon for a reboot. And then I saw Batman Begins. And it was awesome.

When I heard that Columbia had decided to reboot the Spider-Man franchise, I'm pretty sure I let go of another derisive snort. Maybe even a guffaw. The first part of Sam Raimi's trilogy only came out 10 years ago. The final part was in the theater just 5 years ago.

And look, I'm not one to say that Spider-Man 3 was a horrible movie. It wasn't exactly a good movie either. My opinion on the thing is that there was just too much going on. It got cluttered and confusing. It was kind of a mess. So, again, I laugh.

And then I saw the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man. Even though a part of me still believed it was ridiculous to reboot a franchise this quickly, the images flashing on the screen looked... well... amazing. Would Andrew Garfield be able to top Tobey Maguire as everyone's favorite wallcrawler? I'd seen the guy in The Social Network, but I didn't know if he was the kind of guy to pull off a superhero role. But would you have thought the same about the kid from Pleasantville?

Sidebar: I'm not much of a fan of Tobey Maguire. For me, the Spider-Man films were great for reasons beyond the star's acting abilities. Well, the first two anyway.

Friday night I got the chance to actually see The Amazing Spider-Man. I thought it was kind of awesome. It is absolutely a rehash of everything we saw in the first Spider-Man. I mean, there are some key differences. There's no Green Goblin. In fact, we never even see Norman Osborn, but you know he's there somewhere. After all, Dr. Curt Connors works for Oscorp, as did Peter Parker's late father. So the villain is different, as is the leading lady. This time around, the creators decided to pair Peter with Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone.

Sidebar 2: I likes me some Emma Stone.

Anyway, the rest was your basic origin story. It's something we've all come to know very well over the last few decades. Even more so since seeing the 2002 version of the origin. Parker's bitten by a special spider, he gets super powers, he puts on a mask. He's given a speech about how great power brings on great responsibility by his Uncle Ben, who later suffers a violent death at the hands of someone that Peter could have easily stopped beforehand. I really hope that's not a spoiler. If it is, you really need to immerse yourself in a little more pop culture.

I do think that Garfield made a better Peter Parker than Maguire did. Maybe it's the writing, but I also believe the acting had something to do with it too. Peter Parker is this brainy kid who is obviously a little socially awkward. Even after he's gained his powers, he still has trouble having a conversation with Gwen. At least, at first. But the second he puts on that mask, he's able to crack wise at the expense of unsuspecting criminals on the street.

As for the rest of the cast, Rhys Ifans was great as Dr. Connors/The Lizard. Okay, CGI was great as The Lizard. But the character was pretty classic as a Jekyll/Hyde kind of story. Which I guess is really familiar if you think about the Norman Osborn/Green Goblin angle from a decade ago. Also, Sally Field was a great Aunt May. She was younger and cooler and not quite so fragile, even after the death of Uncle Ben.

Overall, it was good. I'm not sure that I'd call it better than Spider-Man 2, which was, by far, the best of the Raimi trilogy. But very good nonetheless.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Three Rivers Crowd

Kids, I'm gonna tell you the absolutely true story of how I went to Pittsburgh for dinner. But to get the whole story, we have to go back to the year 2004.

It was a night like any other. Back in those days, I was living in Bluefield. It was after I had graduated from college, but before I broke down and moved back in with my Dad. I was hanging out with Mark. At the time, he was my roommate in that old attic apartment that we referred to as "the Penthouse." Sure, it wasn't fancy, but it was home.

We were spending the evening in the company of a couple of young ladies, Kelly and Meghan. As it usually happened in those days, boredom overtook us. To be fair, there wasn't a lot to do in Bluefield during the early part of the 21st century. After all, this was long before the town would see its first Taco Bell.

We were young and foolish. And since the sidewalks rolled up at 9pm, we were desperate for entertainment when 11 came along. We looked around each other and decided to hop in the car, just to take a drive. After driving around town for a while, we decided that Bluefield wasn't big enough for our traveling curiosities. Mark looked at me and said, "Let's go to Pittsburgh!"

"YES!" was all I had to say in response. The girls seemed to be in favor of a spontaneous five hour drive. So we hit the road.

We made it as far as Princeton before we decided to turn back and head home. That's right, kids, we were in my car for a grand total of 20 minutes before we gave up on the spur-of-the-moment dream of visiting the home of the Steelers.

Flash forward 8 years. If you do the math, you'll realize that's this year. Not only is it this year. It's this weekend.

A few weeks prior, I met with Mark when he was passing through Radford on his way to Richmond. I shared some of my stresses from work and let him know that I needed to get away from the real world and soon. I suggested a "bromance" weekend. It's something we've done in the past, where we get together with the guys we went to school with to just hang out and catch up on each others' lives. You remember the Great Indianapolis Trip of 2011, right? That was one of our "bromance" trips.

I called up Brandon and he was in. Mark invited Andy, but he wasn't available for the weekend in question. So it would just be the three of us. Well, the weekend finally arrived. Honestly, it couldn't have gotten here soon enough. Brandon drove to Radford, then I drove us from there to Bluefield. Friday night wasn't too crazy. Not that I expected the weekend to get crazy. We had a late dinner and caught the late showing of the new Spider-Man movie.

Saturday, we really didn't have anything planned. Remember, I said earlier, this weekend was mostly about getting away from real life and trying to relax without needing to think so much about work. And then, as we were sitting around Mark's living room, Mark brought up the failed Pittsburgh road trip from 2004.

"You guys wanna go to Pittsburgh?" Mark asked as he looked back and forth from Brandon to me. "We can finally close that chapter that started 8 years ago."

Brandon and I both agreed that this kind of trip would be kind of epic. A spontaneous trip to Pittsburgh would definitely be an opportunity to get away from the real world. So we hopped into my car and drove.

You know what the biggest difference between this trip and the past trip was? We were leaving about 12 hours earlier in the day. There was no plan for this trip. We just drove.

We're definitely not as young or impetuous as we once were, but every now and then, we can still be impulsive.

On the way, we stopped at the New River Gorge. It was home to America's second highest bridge. To give you an idea of how high above the river it was, you could fit the Washington Monument and two Statues of Liberty stacked on top of each other under the arch. Yeah, it was that tall. I'd never been there or seen it in person, so we snapped some pictures before getting back in the car.

We arrived in Pittsburgh around 4:30 in the afternoon. And yes, we got a little lost. None of us knew the area at all, even though Brandon and Mark had both been to Pittsburgh in the past. We drove into the downtown area and decided to try and find our way to Mount Washington, which we understood would have a pretty spectacular view of the city. But in trying to find our way to Mount Washington, we backtracked a bit too much.

We stopped at a mall that we figured would be helpful. At the very least, we may have been able to find a map of the city that could help us out. The signs that enticed us off the highway let us know that this mall had three stories. Sounded pretty good to us.

Unfortunately, as we came to find out, the only store open in that mall was the K-Mart. The rest of the mall looked like it hadn't been occupied since Robin Sparkles went on her mall tour in the mid-90s. And no, the K-Mart didn't have a map.

So we drove some more. Thankfully, Brandon was able to get a signal on his phone. His GPS started pointing us in the direction of Mount Washington. And then his phone randomly rebooted, a problem that he had apparently been having for some time. Once again, we were lost.

At that point, we decided to forgo looking for Mount Washington and drove back into the city to find a place to have dinner. About an hour later, we finally got back to a decent parking spot and walked to Primanti Brothers. Mark had heard this was the place to go in Pittsburgh. After surviving the meal, I could only say, "Meh..."

It's not that it was bad. But, you know how I'm a picky eater? Not a fan of the coleslaw. Not a fan of a tomato. These items, according to the menu, came standard on each of their sandwiches. I asked the waiter if I could get my sandwich without those things. He looked at me and said, "Really?"

"Yeah, really," I said, "I'm that guy."

From there, I assumed he would put in the order the way I ordered it. Though I kind of got the impression that they didn't do special orders at Primanti Brothers. Sure enough, when I got my sandwich, there was pile of coleslaw about an inch thick, accompanied by a juicy slice of tomato. I may as well have answered the waiter with a "No, I was just kidding. Pile it on there!"

After we ate, we walked around downtown for a few minutes, then made our way back to the Yaris. Again, we hit the road. We made it back to Mark's place in Bluefield around 12:30. Made pretty good time if you ask me.

Now, I must say, I wasn't all that impressed by Pittsburgh. Don't get me wrong, it looked beautiful when we came out of the tunnel and started crossing the bridge. There was a lot of amazing architecture downtown. But I think I had my fill after our few hours there. I would need to go back someday, though. I still needed to cross PNC Park off my list of places to see a Major League Baseball game. But that's another story for another time.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

John's Story

Title: John's Story: The Last Eyewitness
Author: Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
Published: 2006

And here's another one I listened to on CD during my drive to and from work. I was still waiting for The Hunger Games to be available. I read the Left Behind series years ago, so I was kind of interested to see how those authors would take on the life of John, an actual historic figure in the Church.

I'll be honest, I wasn't all that impressed. I thought I would be. Or maybe I just thought I would be a lot more interested in hearing this story than I was. After all, I majored in Christian Studies in college. And my emphasis was in Church History. I love this stuff.

But this novelized account of John's life just didn't grab me the way I expected it to. A lot of the time I felt kind of bored. And I couldn't help but wonder how many of these events actually transpired and how much was made up in an attempt to make the story more compelling.

The way it's told, a lot of these things make sense. They tell of a heretical teacher moving into town and drawing early Christians away from the church with his teachings. This is the reason John felt lead to write his version of the Gospel, despite the fact that three versions already existed. John wanted to combat the heresy of Gnosticism which seemed to be spreading. But did that decision really stem from being confronted with a Gnostic leader who was setting up shop in Ephesus?

And then there's the story of Caesar's apparent attempt to boil John in oil. The way the authors tell it, the Romans tried and failed to kill John. He escaped through a miracle and was then sentenced to exile on the island of Patmos, where he would go on to write Revelation.

It's been a while since I took a course in Church History, but I really don't ever remember reading anything about John being boiled in oil before being exiled.

Sidebar: I did some checking. According to extrabiblical tradition, Domitian did attempt to boil John in oil. When John survived, the audience of the Coliseum was immediately converted to Christianity. John was then sent to Patmos.

In the long run, the book on CD was okay. But it didn't cause me to want to run out and read or listen to the other entries in the series.

Monday, July 02, 2012

AFI 60 - Duck Soup

Duck Soup
Directed by Leo McCarey
Netflix sleeve: Thanks to the patronage of well-heeled widow Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) becomes dictator of the tiny country of Freedonia. But when the ambassador of the bordering nation of Sylvania declares his love for Mrs. Teasdale, Firefly declares war. The Marx Brothers are at their sidesplitting best in this raucous political satire, in which Chico, Harpo and Zeppo co-star as spies and counterspies.

Another Marx Brothers movie. And, again, I kind of don't get it. When I watched A Night at the Opera I blamed my inability to "get" this humor on the fact that humor is different now than it was in the 1930s. I don't necessarily think that's the case though. Maybe it's just that I don't seem to be able to appreciate the humor of the Marx Brothers. Pretty sure this is the last one of their films on the list. And I won't be disappointed by that fact.