Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tis The Season, It's Always The Real Thing (Holidays Are Coming...)

Book09: "The Christmas List" by Richard Paul Evans

Trust me when I say that being away from family and friends during the big, family-oriented holidays blows. This perpetual suckness is worsened when you spend it 1) in a war zone, and 2) in a Muslim country where the mere mentioning of Christ and his yearly birthday party are equal to spitting in someone’s face (just joking; nationals are mostly indifferent). Since I cannot be serenaded 24/7 by Christmas jams on the radio or in the mall, and I dont have the option of watching “Bad Santa” on FX or spending twenty four straight hours watching “The Christmas Story” on TBS, I decided I needed to fill myself with the Christmas cheer in a more accessible-to-Afghanistan media form: bookage. As such, I found author Richard Paul Evans. For something like the last ten years, Mr. Evans has written a Christmas-oriented book, all of which seem to have positive reviews from online readers. After sifting through Evans’ catalog of written Christmas works, I settled on this year’s work: “The Christmas List”.

The Christmas List” by Richard Paul Evans is, for all intents and purposes, a modern day re-imagining of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. The story revolves around James Kier, a wealthy business man from Utah who has been a very bad boy, particularly to those closest to him and other business associates/partners (stop me if you’ve heard this one before…well, except for the Utah part). As with most Christmas stories, this is a tale of redemption, and Mr. Kier is in need of it this holiday season. However, unlike other retellings of Dickens’ classic (i.e. “Scrooged”), “The Christmas List” focuses less on the attempt to make Kier see the error of his ways and more on his actual path to redemption, which, unlike the other works, takes longer than one magical night.

Despite desperately wanting to enjoy this book, I did not. I was looking for something to get me into the holiday spirit, even if it was cheesy as hell, but this book did not do it for me (and that’s coming from someone who enjoys the Governator and Sinbad in “Jingle All the Way”). Each scene was given its own chapter, a number of which were short, some spanning no more than four pages. This gave the book a very screenplay-like feel, and not a good one. The characters were also very bland. I thought they were one-dimensional with no depth or believable self-conflict, and when (some) of them do change their outlook at the end of the book, it’s unconvincing. And no character is more guilty of this than the protagonist, James Kier.

This being the story of James Kier’s redemption during the Christmas season, he does change, but as I said of the other characters, it’s unconvincing. The first hinting of Kier is through his obituary (I wont explain now), and then through other characters’ discussion of him. Both paint Kier as a ruthless business man with no remorse for fair play or the outcomes of others; his only focus is gaining more money for himself. That works. It’s what I expected. However, when we meet Kier, he doesn’t fully embody the evil business man persona others have painted him as. In some early scenes, he seems downright reluctant to be that evil (his lawyer seems more heartless than he does). While this is a hinting at the “he wasn’t always this evil/there’s still a good man in there” play, I would have preferred for him to be an absolutely disgusting human being, which would have made the change even more significant.

Additionally, his reason for change was also entirely unconvincing. Thought to be dead by the public, Kier reads his obituary online as well as the comments section of the article. Suffice it to say, most every poster was left searching for something positive to say about Kier, and this is what convinced him to try to change his ways. Now, just like the “there’s still a good man in there” play I mentioned earlier, I believe this was Evans’ attempt to show the reader that redemption and change from bad to good does not just happen overnight, and may even happen for the wrong reason. It’s a gradual process that takes time to fully realize, and that’s true. I just don’t think Evans was able to express that metamorphosis well.

Small note: I was also a bit disappointed that there weren’t any supernatural elements to the story. “A Christmas Carol” and most retellings of the story involved the Ghosts of Christmas Past/Present/Future in some capacity, and I think that supernatural/metaphoric representation was part of the fun of the story. That element was missing from “The Christmas List”, and my enjoyment suffered for it.

Evans’ latest Christmas novel, though recommended by other readers, did not fill me with Christmas cheer. The writing was elementary, the characters uninteresting, and the dialogue bland. The only enjoyable passages were Evans’ description of Christmas atmosphere, but these were few and far between, and ultimately not able to save this book. I can’t speak for his other books, but after reading “The Christmas List”, I’m wary of trying Evans’ other books. I’d have a better time finding my holiday cheer in a movie, perhaps one where Zooey Deschanel sings a Christmas classic with Will Ferrell. In fact, I think I’ll do that now. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This Is All So Crazy, Everybody Seems So Famous...

Book08: "Eating the Dinosaur" by Chuck Klosterman

I love Chuck Klosterman, but at this point, I’m not sure if I love him because I agree with what he writes, or I agree with what he writes because I love him. I’ve been following Klosterman’s work for around four years now, and it all started on a whim. I randomly picked up “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto” and became enamored with how he could take (what seemed to be) the shallowest parts of pop culture, pick it apart so insightfully, and in the end tie it all back up and deliver commentary that seemed to speak hidden truths about our society. Klosterman returns to form in “Eating the Dinosaur”.

Eating the Dinosaur” is Chuck Klosterman’s sixth published book, and harkens back to the format of “Sex, Drugs…” as a collection of unpublished essays. As such, the chapters of “Eating” do not exactly flow together like other BOOKS. In fact, every chapter focuses on a different subject entirely. In the first chapter, Klosterman comments on the nature of celebrity interviews, tangentially mentioning Jennifer Aniston and her “Friends” and Prince’s image-marketing prowess during the 80’s and 90’s; in the second, he jumps to a comparison and contrast of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s album “In Utero” to David Koresh and his Waco Branch Davidians. Reading the chapters (or even the smaller sectioned essays within the chapters) as lone entities unto themselves leaves them just as they are: separate essays and ideas and thoughts that Klosterman wrote, perhaps, over an expanse of time, independent of each other. That alone would make them interesting enough. After all, who wouldn’t be interested in the relationship between Rivers Cuomo, Ralph Nader, and “Friday Night Lights”? However, I think Klosterman’s writing has reason beyond that, and it may in fact define the purpose (if I can call it that) of pop culture commentary.

At its foundation, Klosterman’s ideas (whether it be why sports enthusiasts have a particular distaste over the bust of Ralph Sampson’s career or why the Wildcat formation is the current flavor of the week for football teams at every level) are an explanation of pop culture’s relationship with us, society. In every example, it seemed like Klosterman was defining the relationship between society and pop culture (whether it be ABBA or laugh tracks), and then looking at how each party’s intent and reactions shaped each other. His formula seems to be 1) pick a subject, 2) talk about what society typically thinks about subject, 3) delve into what subject really meant to be or wanted to be or actually was, 4) talk about why that did/didn’t happen because of how society reacted to subject, and 5) conclude. Now, that outline is simple and in no way does justice to the work or incredible insight Klosterman has on our society, but I think it simply explains why we (maybe just me) care about pop culture. We care about that relationship we have with pop culture. Fads and celebrity and fame don’t come about out of thin air, on a whim, or solely as a result of the work/intent/will of the subject. We are in a give-and-take, symbiotic relationship with pop culture. We shape it and define it, and in return, it does the same of us. And Chuck Klosterman draws out and discusses that relationship better than most anyone else I know.

Eating the Dinosaur” is essentially more of what I love about Chuck Klosterman’s writing. Pop culture is somewhat of a guilty pleasure where “Top Gun” and “Lost” and Miley Cyrus are not (OF COURSE) considered with the same weight as other, more intellectual works. But that’s what I love about Klosterman’s work. His writing gives me the guilty pleasure of shallow, useless pop culture (in fact, he seems to roll around in it as much, if not more so, than I do), but presents it and discusses it in an intelligent and insightful manner that makes me less guilty over my infatuation and, sometimes, makes me feel smarter for reading it.

And if I incorrectly used words (i.e. “novel”), then FCK YOURSELF.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

There's gotta be a way to sing "Zombie Nation"...

Book07: "World War Z" by Max Brooks

Though I thoroughly enjoy the subject matter, my "experience" with zombies is pretty limited. As young as I am, it's mostly based around "Resident Evil" and other similar video games, "28 Days Later", "Shaun of the Dead" (an absolute favorite), and the most recent "Zombieland". When I saw the cover of "World War Z"by Max Brooks, it got me thinking. It was dark and a bit desolate, hinting at the rough side of war, the grittiness of it, and there was blood and the word "zombie". It was enough for my imagination to sell the book to me. Unfortunately, my imagination was far more exciting than anything the book had to offer.

The idea of the origin of zombies in "WWZ" wasn't dull. It centered around zombie-ism being a disease of some sort, rather than being born of the sci-fi/supernatural. Of course, it isn't the first time this notion of zombies was pushed out (i.e. Resident Evil, 28 Days Later), and I always found the concept interesting (same with vampirism being a sort of disease). The dull part was the delivery. The story is told through a series of interviews with various people from around the world who experienced WWZ. The characters ranged from doctors and scientists to politicians to members of different forms of military to regular civilians. The interviews were divided into eight "chapters", each chronicling a different time frame or area in the war: Warnings (pre-war), Blame, The Great Panic (when everyone started freaking), Turning The Tide, Home Front USA, Around The World And Above, Total War, and Good-Byes.

Each interview was bland. The characters were not interesting at all. Every chapter, (nearly) every anecdote was like a history lesson of the war, and not the good kind. It was like I was in AP Government again, but instead of watching news documentaries about Vietnam or the Gulf War, it was a fictional count of a war with zombies. I wasn't around for Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, so I cant personally say how effective that "realistic" approach to a sci-fi idea went, but Max Brooks did not have it. The characters were uninteresting; they had no personal voice. Every account sounded like the same person just stating a different view. Brooks' characters had no depth, no emotions or reactions you could believe. Nearly every character's interview sounded staged, like they were reading lines from a play or a really bad monologue. On top of that, they would all say cliche things like, "Who could have been ready for this?" or "Those cries will be with me for the rest of my life." Honestly, it was like a high schooler wrote the dialogue; an unimaginative high schooler. It was like that scene in "X-Men" when Storm was fighting the Toad and delivered the worst line in the movie. The dialogue made "WWZ" feel campy. And for a book using anecdotal interviews as a vehicle for narrating the story, that's the one thing you cannot get wrong.

Another aspect of the book that bothered me had to do with some of the people who were interviewed. It makes sense to interview politicians who ran departments in charge of solving and containing the threat, or the military men and women who had to face the threat head on as part of their duties, but Brooks went a bit off the deep end. Why do I care about an interview with a guy who was scuba diving for zombies? Or a guy who became a dog handler during war because he stopped a couple of random dudes on the side of the street from eating a dog? It was like a slow news day. It was like the Interviewer ran out of good people to get stories from, but he was three thousand words short of a complete story, so he just threw those guys in to meet the criteria. I'll let it be known now: if our world does in fact go into a war with zombies, I do not want to see the news running stories and interviews about guys who went undersea diving for zombies or a guy who became a dog handler during the war.

The only chapter that I did enjoy and felt some emotions with was the final chapter, "Good-Byes". It's basically an epilogue for the story, the interviewer coming back to characters introduced earlier in the book, and their accounts of life after liberation. I think it was by far the shortest chapter, with most interviews lasting no more than a page or so long. I dont know if it was the brevity of the pieces, but Brooks really got to the emotions of the characters, and it wasnt campy or corny; it was real. Maybe it was the hope thanks to survival or the desperation and disgust due to what was lost, but for the first time in the book, the characters felt like real people telling sharing their real feelings.

Despite being a novel approach to telling a story, Brooks wasn't able to hook me and pull me deep into the story. I think a lot of the plot and the events that were described sounded like what would happen to our world if we ever found ourselves battling zombies, but the lack of believable characters and story telling made it all sound like no more than political ponderings rather than a story. That hint of realism may have worked in his "How To" guide due to being a bit ironic and tongue-in-cheek, but it didnt carry over into "WWZ". If you allow me to be equally campy, "World War Z" was a lot like the zombies in the book.....dead! (Right?? Right??? Because the book was boring, and boring things make you seem like you're dead...! And zombies are dead...!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

There Goes My Hero, He's Ordinary...

Book06: "Friday Night Lights" by H. G. Bissinger

“Friday Night Lights” by Harry Gerard Bissinger is the story of the 1988 Permian Panther High School football team from Odessa, Texas. In order to write the novel, Bissinger quit his sports writing job in Philadelphia to move to Odessa so that he could accurately follow the Permian Panthers throughout their season as they strove for the highest honor of all: winning the state championship.

Being a sports writer, it comes as no surprise that Bissinger perfectly chronicles the highlights and the edge-of-your-seat plays throughout each of Permian’s games. However, “Friday Night Lights” is much more than a simple book about a great high school football team. The true strength of Bissinger’s novel is how he perfectly captures the relationship between Odessa and the Permian football team. The town of Odessa, once a gold rush of oil fields but lately a community in the dumps, rests its every last hope, its every happiness in life, and the town’s entire identity on the Permian Panthers. Since its inception in 1959, the Permian Panther varsity football team has always been a force to be reckoned with in the arena of Texas high school football. Over the years, they’ve won a number of district, regional, and state championships, and as such, the people of Odessa have come to expect no less than a championship team every year. Living in a town riddled with poverty, crime, and no way out of their abysmal lives, there literally is nothing else the people can take pride in other than this team. As such, the town gives everything to these young “gods”. The starters get a free pass in class, whether it’s in attendance or a passing grade, alcohol and drugs are provided to them like candy, and they are absolved of any and every transgression. The players happily accept their status above the rules, and many live for it. It is a fair trade when all they need to do is provide the town a championship team. However, when games result in losses and winning a championship becomes questionable, the town easily turns on their heroes. The pressure of this highest of highs and lowest of lows relationship with the town takes its toll on the players.

Bissinger closely covers the top starters of the Permian Panthers team: Boobie Miles, the senior star fullback who is more than ready to accept his role in the spotlight; Mike Winchell, the under-sized QB1 who must lead this team to a championship despite his own insecurities; Ivory Christian, the middle linebacker and probably best player on the team, who fights a love-hate battle over football within himself; Don Billingsley, a halfback, known more for causing trouble in town than playing on the field as his father had done twenty years ago, a former star of the Permian Panthers; and Brian Chavez, an outlier in Odessa who dreams of attending Harvard after graduation. From day one, these players, along with all others on the team, sacrifice every part of their being for the sake of football, whether it be playing through injuries and refusing medical treatment so that they can continue to play, or the emotional and psychological stress that comes with feeling the weight of an entire town on your shoulders. Despite all these unrelenting troubles, and the treatment they receive when things take a turn for the worse, these teenagers press on all for one reason: this is what they’ve wanted to do since they were mere children who could barely understand the game of football. Their entire lives have been tailored so that they could one day be the heroes of this broken town, and they will not give it up. It’s not just a dream; it’s their sole reason for being. The relationship with football is intoxicating, a drug with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, one that the players refuse to give up, and one the town will ride with them hand-in-hand.

“Friday Night Lights” completely captures the culture of Odessa, a culture that can no doubt be found in various other small towns across the country. There’s both good and bad in the culture of these towns. On one hand, it’s a time capsule of old America, where people left their doors unlocked in case a neighbor needs to use their stove, where kids waved American flags, where the townspeople prayed in church together on Sundays, and where the people believed in hard work. On the other hand, it has the worst aspects, where the word “nigger” is openly used without hesitation, where people vandalize the head coach’s car and home just because they lost, and where you were useless and less than nothing if you could not perform for the team. “Friday Night Lights” is a great story of hope and struggle and determination and, for good or bad, believing wholeheartedly in something as small and as big as high school football.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Saw The Sign. And It Opened Up My Eyes. I Saw The Sign.

Book05: "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" by Thomas C. Foster

For my fifth book, I chose to go with “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” by Thomas C. Foster. It was one of five books that I bought in preparation for my deployment to Afghanistan. It caught my eye in passing, stacked on one of those random desks that Barnes and Noble has strewn throughout the store with section titles like “Summer Reads” or “Best Selling Paperback”. The summary on the back cover grabbed me though, proclaiming a guide to deeper and more insightful reading and analysis of literature and novels. Being a former student of AP English 11 (I did pretty well) and someone who’s always hungry for the “true meaning” behind the words, whether it be a story, a speech, or a song lyric, I was hooked and had to have the secrets. However, by the end of the reading, the book had humbled me and my ability to read into the deeper meaning of writing.

The author, Thomas C. Foster, is a professor of English at Michigan, and one who’s class and lectures I probably would have enjoyed and listened to intently, instead of falling asleep or just deciding to not show up. Foster’s writing reads exactly like lectures in his college classes, however, he wasn’t difficult to read. He wasn’t condescending and his ideas weren’t difficult to decipher; he brought every one of his points down to a level even basic readers could understand. His tone and voice were conversational, but still informative; a mark of a man who truly knows about what he speaks, and who really wants people to understand and be able to see as he sees (or reads, rather). And the book is exactly as its title proclaims: a guide for insightful reading.

Every chapter (26-ish, I believe) focused on one specific symbol, and how writers throughout the years used these symbols to express similar ideas and themes over and over again, granted, in their own way. It was like someone opening your eyes to a new point of view, like you finally saw the sailboat hidden in the Magic Eye. Each chapter I read opened my mind up to this new “vision” for reading. I thought I was finally catching on and that I had finally broken through the wall of face value, but I quickly found out that I wasn’t in the final chapter. The final chapter contains a five to six page excerpt from a short story, and at the end, Foster poses a couple of questions to the reader regarding what the story signifies and how it signifies. Afterwards, Foster cites three different answers to those questions, from three different students who have varying degrees of experience with Foster’s guidance. The writing shows that as each student has spent more time under Foster’s tutelage, the more insightful the student’s analysis became. Sad to say…I was at level one (college freshman).

In no way is this book the keys to the kingdom. This isn’t the answer sheet to a final exam. Rather, it’s a fast and loose guide by which a reader can build a foundation on for the future, thus, the reason I decided to tackle this book before getting deep into my Cannonball Read Deuce reading. As Foster states early on in his book, as with most skills, it will take a lot of practice to develop and cultivate the ability to “read literature like a professor”, but it’s a start. And hopefully the next forty-seven books will offer enough practice for me to regain some of my literary pride.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

But It'd Be So Empty Without Me...

Book04: "The Jordan Rules" by Sam Smith

This past summer, Michael Jordan was accepted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Definitely a no brainer. The surprising part of that day was Jordan's "acceptance" speech, if you want to call it that. During his "speech" (more like rant), he seemed to be releasing about 30 years worth of ill feelings that he may or may not have held back from everyone who's entered his life since he first started playing basketball. Gone was my vision of a heroic icon who was a decent man who just hungered for the game, and in his place stood a bitter, vengeful player who held a grudge and a chip on his shoulder for way too long. It was the first time I actually saw Michael Jordan in this light, but, as I'd come to find out, it was not the first time the world was introduced to this "true" Michael Jordan.

"The Jordan Rules" is centered around the 1990-1991 NBA season, the first of six times Michael Jordan would win the NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls. The author, Sam Smith, was working as a sports journalist in the Chicago area at the time, and decided that he would chronicle the ins and outs of this season with the Bulls. The title references both a supposed set of "rules" the Detroit Pistons had developed in order to shut down Jordan during games as well as the special treatment Jordan received by a number of people for being the star that he is. The outside cover reads "The Inside Story of One Turbulent Season with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls". And it is completely right.

Smith digs deep into the core of what the Bulls were that year: a superstar who believed he deserved more credit than he was given and didnt think anyone else could do the job but him, eleven other team members griping over minutes, chances to score while in the shadow of Jordan, and their contracts, and the new head coach (Phil Jackson) who would have to figure out a way to make this all work. Of course, in the end, I knew the Bulls would win the championship, but after reading page after page of how the other players resented Michael Jordan and how Jordan was an egotistical jerk who's addiction with his star status was basically the crux of all the malcontent within the organization, it truly is a surprise that they got one championship at all.

Jordan was basically as I stated: a player who had become a huge superstar, but thought he deserved more. Not only did he believe he was deserving of the treatment he was receiving (which, to be fair, he did); he believed he deserved MUCH more. The truly surprising part for me was how terrible of a teammate Jordan was until the Bulls entered the playoffs. Jordan had no faith in his teammates and ridiculed and debased them for every mistake they made, while the Jordan Rules protected him from criticism even during games in which he played poorly. Growing up, I always imagined Jordan being a great person, a figurehead who lead his team into battle and was beloved by all. To me, it was if he was Captain America. Come of to find out, Jordan was NOT Captain America. Many people term him as "hungry" and "the fiercest of competitors", but come on. That does not excuse him from being an atrocious teammate, which he was. You can be hungry and a fierce competitor without belittling your teammates. But Jordan was not a leader, and he was no hero. In fact, the only hero in the book was the first year coach, Phil Jackson. It was interesting to hear about a Phil Jackson outside of basketball. In fact, it seemed like Phil Jackson barely defined himself by the game of basketball. He was somewhat of a "hippie", and preferred to read the news and discuss politics and world affairs over anything sports-related, and he had a degree in psychology. Amazingly, he'd often use this to shape and to mold his players into a team. Jackson would often read into what each player wanted and how each responded to the world around him; he'd couple that with his basketball and coaching knowledge. The end result was a team that won a championship by surviving each other.

The power behind "The Jordan Rules" is that it really examines the truth of who these players are. Smith shows us that these sports superstars, these idols of children and so many more, are just as human as the rest of us. They have the same tendencies and fallacies and make all the same mistakes and commit the same vices. Michael Jordan was not a god amongst men in terms of being a human being, but I guess for me today, he doesnt have to be. Despite my displeasure over who Jordan was, it doesnt change the fact that I, along with so many others, are still enamored with him. He was the most incredible basketball player who ever lived, and in the end, that's who he'll remain.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

(How do I enter the "Eye of the Tiger" guitar riff here without the lyrics? The lyrics suck.)

Just finished watching my second episode of "The League", the new comedy on FX, and I love this show. Why do I love this show? I love this show because it is centered nearly completely around fantasy football. About 90% of my love for this show is based on the simple truth that it centers around fantasy football. And you know what? This is only my second season playing fantasy football! How am I so crazy already??? I know! I can't explain it! It's like I got the Awesome Disease really late!



Fantasy football is both a godsend and a fckn disaster. Last season: godsend. In some bizarre way, I ended up 2nd in my league of superfriends. This season I am dead last with 1 win to my name. LT, I love you, but you goddamn ruined my season. The only way you can repay me is by destroying the Broncos at Mile High in one week, and then ripping their dreams of winning the division out of their fckn skulls. I know; I know. I should be talking to Philip Rivers right now, but I'm still hanging on the naive notion that LT can find a way out of his funk, and help the Chargers get into the playoffs, teeth gritted the whole way through.

There are a couple of completely unrealistic things that happen in "The League", of course. Every show has this, but I dont know; it just seems so much more obvious to me watching "The League". First off, the wives are all hot. ALL hot... or at least cute. Completely unrealistic. Really? They fell for these guys? These guys? And they still get to play fantasy football and act like children, and these hot wives are in love with them? I vote "unrealistic". Secondly, in the second episode, in order to prevent his wife from hearing about his new source of masturbation stimulant, Ruxin trades Peyton Manning for Fred Taylor and Torry Holt to Jenny/Kevin.

.....

WHAT?!?

That is an impossible trade! I dont care what you might be getting black mailed for! You CANNOT make that trade! For shame!!! FOR SHAME!!!!!

I told you there were unrealistic things in this show.

Now onto other shows.... I've fallen behind.

PS: So far, all that I've learned from "The Jordan Rules" by Sam Smith (I learned this in the first 5 pages; I'm on page 173 now) is that the Michael Jordan you saw during his acceptance speech for the NBA Hall of Fame is EXACTLY right. Don't believe the Wheaties box or the Nike commercials or the Hanes commercials! That petty asshole with a chip on his shoulder is exactly who he is. Whatever the reason may be (the "drive", the "competitiveness", etc.), Michael Jordan is a douche. But I still like him.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2015 Riverside, It's Time To Say Goodbye...


Book03: "Shadow of the Giant" by Orson Scott Card


"Giant" picks up where "Puppets" left off (of course): multiple powers in the world are in disarray because their leadership and heads of state decided to ignore the warnings of their Battle School military geniuses and instead play into the hands of the twisted Achilles, who received a deserving death at the hands of Bean. With Achilles no longer a threat, the most ambitious of the Battle School graduates take grasp of true positions of power, and play against each other with ruling the world being the top prize. All the graduates happily "compete" (through military strategy and war, of course), except for two. Bean and Petra have only one mission in mind: the retrieval of all their stolen children. Graff offers to help them find their offspring, if Bean will help Peter Wiggin achieve his goal of peacefully uniting all the world's people under his hegemony. Now Bean is faced of a multitude of choices, and must make his move quickly, before he dies.

Whew. Going through all those plot lines is like going through a freaking soap opera. Except that "Giant" deals with war, military strategy, and the shaping of the world at the hand of military and political geniuses. Of course, with as many players as Card has, and the world quite literally being the stage, it's completely necessary for Card to guide us through each subplot, as if we were watching an entire season of "Lost" in 367 pages. But as he's done in the past, Card weaves his story beautifully, with each subplot and each character playing it's part until the very end where all merge for the grand finale, and you finally see the big picture when all is revealed.

"Giant" plays like Act III of a Shakespearean play (..and IV, and V..), when all the players are in place, and all that's left is the climax (that's what she said). After three books of showing us how brilliant these children (now "adults" in their late teens/early twenties) are, they have finally reached the stage where they answer to no one (sort of) and it all rests upon their shoulders. And what do they do? They become human. Card shows the fears and worries and vulnerabilities of each character, exposing them as fallible despite their genius. It's a bit ironic that now that so much responsibility rests solely on Alai and Virlomi and Hot Soup and Peter's shoulders, that they suddenly fall prey to humanity, whether it be frustration with an impossible task, blind arrogance, realizing what's necessary for your people, or going facing your demons and becoming the man you need to be. Bean and Petra already showed some of their "human side" in "Puppets", but it becomes even more apparent with their parenthood, and all the emotions and difficult decisions they must now make for the sake of their family. The praised genius children of the world have now grown up, and have inherited the Earth, good and bad.

In the end, the world does what it always does: grows old, and the players with it. I know that Card is working on the final book of the his "Ender" series which is supposed to tie the "Shadow" strand and the "Ender" strand together once again, but "Giant" does the job already. Without trying to say too much, "Giant" puts a great little bow on this great futuristic epic that Card has created, as if it were the end of an era.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

(Fox NFL Sunday theme song has no lyrics)

Wow, what a great time.

For those that don't know, the Fox NFL Sunday Pre-game show came to Bagram AF this past weekend for a special taping in honor of Veteran's Day (11NOV, this upcoming Wednesday). Lucky for me, they were staying on the compound I work on, so I heard IMMEDIATELY when they arrived, and got to do a special photo op and a quick autograph session before they started going out on the FOB to do more Meet & Greets and other events.


On Saturday and Sunday, they had the actual taping in the MWR gym. Unfortunately, I work on Saturdays, so I was only able to go to the Sunday taping, but it was really cool.

All those guys are freaking awesome, and it was way badass for them to come out all the way over here and do this for us. They kept saying THEY'RE thankful to us for all that we do, but getting to experience something like this when just about everything else in your regular life back home is taken away from you is just a great, great thing.

Thanks again, guys!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Everybody Have Fun Tonight. Everybody Wang Chung Tonight.


Paranormal Activity


THIS OPINIONATED REVIEW IS FULL OF SPOILERS. I HOPE IT RUINS THE MOVIE FOR YOU.

First of all for my excuses, I did not watch this movie in the atmosphere that the film makers probably thought it should be watched in. I was at my office desk in the middle of the day after lunch, trying hard to listen closely to every little sound that would occur over the noise of people walking around and talking everywhere (aka working).

Second of all, OF COURSE this movie is compared heavily to "The Blair Witch Project", the movie that was released 10 years earlier, under SIMILAR pretenses and filming styles. I was not scared of "The Blair Witch Project", not even a little bit. I am much more scared of the stories of the "White Lady" and stuff told between friends and the such.

I didn't think this movie was scary. I know everyone is going to say that it's because I didn't watch it right, and if I had seen it at night, and had to go home and think about it at the end of the night, I'd be scared of it. I'm pretty sure that would have happened. Lots of times, just randomly, I think of these things anyway. I don't need a movie to make the Boogey (does that spelling make anyone else think of "boogers"?) Man come out and night... at least in my mind. Movies like this just make it seem as if my imagination is true to life, because it's happened to people. REALLY IT DID. Maybe the thing that really scared me the most is the fact that they claim the paranormal activity is a demon. Dude. I'm Catholic. I'm not devout, but I believe on the basis of faith. That means I believe that God exists, Jesus exists, Satan exists, and all the other "paranormal" beings that inhabit my faith and religion (angels, demons, etc.). If I really thought about it though, if Satan is the Fallen Angel, Lucifer...aren't all the demons and what not who do the bidding of the Lord of the Flies just fallen angels who thought they were going to rule Heaven? I guess in the end though, that has nothing to do with the power they MAY have over mere human mortals.

After thinking about my lack of fear and going back and taking another look at a couple of scenes, I have come up with the following list of things that helped me not be as scared as I should have been.

MICAH

This will be my biggest complaint here. The dude started out promising. He went and got a camera to document the creepy, unexplained things happening around his house. He continued this mind set, documenting EVERYTHING on the basis that it NEEDED to be documented or else people wouldn't believe it. I applaud that logic whole heartedly. He's right. If later in the movie, they tried to prove it to someone who didn't believe, they'd be thinking, "Darn! Why didn't we think to record any of this stuff?" Micah beat it to the punch. However, he quickly became a douche.

I get the whole "tough guy" act that he put on. For one thing, his girlfriend was honestly scared of whatever demonic forces were at work here, believing that it's followed her around since she was a young girl. You have to put on the tough guy act in order to put her at ease and, as much as possible, make her feel like you could protect her. For another thing, maybe Micah was a little bit scared also, but didn't want to believe it or show it. Thus he puts on the charade of being a tough guy to show his woman he's not scared, and to show himself as well. BUT...he took it too far. He didn't want to ask for help. He taunted the demon into pushing them farther (I think he even said this one time, plus other phrases like "come and get it", etc.). This is not an episode of The Simpsons Tree House of Horror where Bart taunts "The Shining" House into making it bleed blood on his command because he owns the house (I love that episode. What a perfect argument against the unholy terrors in the night.). I don't care if it's YOUR house, big man. Who cares? You think the demon cares that your name is on the deed to the property? Is the demon saying to himself, "Well, shit, he's paying the mortgage and he has all these official documents. He MUST be able to protect the house against my powers. I guess I should stop." Yeah, basically, he took the act too far and made himself a wholly unbelievable character as the movie went on. Even if I liked his baby powder idea (but what was the point of that? To prove it was really there to themselves? They didn't believe it already?).

Near the end, once Katie is starting to lose will power and control of herself, what was Micah's deal with the cross? Katie was catatonic and had a cross in her hand, and her hand was bloody. Micah freaks and takes the cross and cleans Katie up, exclaiming that he has had enough. So what is his defiant step to show he's had enough? He takes the cross.... And throws it into the fire place. Right. That's going to help. The cross is a symbol of evil, demonic forces, and Katie didn't pick it up because she was trying to protect herself from the evil; the evil possessed her and made her pick it up because crosses just make the demon feel at home. Dude. Why would you throw a cross into a fire? I don't care if you're Christian or not; you know what a cross symbolizes, and it's not evil, demonic forces.

SAW THE FORESHADOWING; GUESSED THE ENDING

I did. I often do this to myself. I'm sitting there enjoying a movie, but then something happens to my subconscious mind. I catch something in the movie, something small and trivial. Maybe I was meant to catch it, maybe I wasn't. But as soon as it moved from my subconscious to my conscious mind, I developed a hypothesis to what would occur later in the movie, and I was right 100% of the time. I'm not saying I'm super perceptive or more so than everyone else; there are plenty of other people who caught these things in the movie also and came to the same conclusions. I'm just saying, whenever this happens to me, it always ruins the movie and its ending, and I end up not liking the movie as much as I thought I should have.

One of the earlier nights, Katie, seemingly sleep walking (or something...), gets up out of bed, turns around, and stares at Micah. The video is shown to be fast forwarded, though still showing the scene captured, 3-ish hours ahead, and she's still standing there, looking at Micah. Then she goes downstairs. Micah finally wakes up, and chases her, finds her outside (I originally thought maybe she drowned in the pool, but why would you kill half of your characters 40 minutes into the movie?) catatonic, and then in the morning, she doesn't remember a single thing. HYPOTHESIS: Katie is being possessed by the demon already. In the future, she will be possessed more severely, and will do something bad to Micah (and not in the kinky, sexual way). CONCLUSION: Mike, you were right.

The knife scene. Yeah, it happened all of 3 minutes into the movie, and that's a bit early to call it foreshadowing (or is it?), but there's just something about seeing a knife in a movie of this genre (a large, shiny, pointy knife..) that automatically makes me think, "Someone is going to get stabbed with that knife." It didn't help that the person holding it was Micah (keeping the knife waving in my subconscious mind, then later realizing that I hate Micah equals I think subconsciously think Micah SHOULD be stabbed with a knife) and he was waving it around so carefree and recklessly. HYPOTHESIS (sort of): I wish Micah would be stabbed by that knife because I hate him so much of the person that he chooses to be. CONCLUSION: Mike, you were right. Micah, you get shanked.

Like all dudes (myself included), Micah associates all things paranormal with the Parker Bros. marketing masterpiece, the Ouijia board. "Man, there's some crazy spirits stuff going on here. Hey, maybe they want to talk to us. Let's talk to them! How do we do that? Hey, there's a Ouijia board at Wal-Mart for $20! The Ghostbusters had it all wrong. All you needed was $20 worth of cardboard and plastic." But when he mentions it to Katie, she automatically rejects the idea, just as I thought a woman would. And then she does ANOTHER thing that I knew a woman would do in this case: she makes him promise that he will not buy a Ouijia board. But! Aha! What does Micah do??? Thinks like a dude. He does promise that he will not BUY Ouijia board. What does he do? He BORROWS one. No, Katie, he did not disobey you! He took you at your word! Thinks like a dude. HYPOTHESIS: Micah will borrow or find or rent a Ouijia board from someone/somewhere, and bad things will happen. CONCLUSION: Ouijia board gets set on fire, and tells you about a girl who killed herself through demonic possession. Things are not looking well for yall two.

This one is my favorite. The couple starts fighting more and more as the movie progresses! Yeah, it's just like a couple to do that, and yeah, they're dealing with a stressful situation therefore they are entitled to arguments, but do not forget that this is still a movie. More often than not, in movies, when couples start arguing more and more and more, and the situation doesn't change, and they don't change how they perceive and react the unchanging situation, this is going to end in some bad way where they will not be together anymore. And the fact that Katie is the one who is being possessed by forces superior to those of mere men doesn't make me feel too confident in Micah winning the eventual, point-of-no-return fight. HYPOTHESIS: Katie is going to win this fight. CONCLUSION: Micah is dead; Katie is alive, albeit, possessed and guilty of murder. I still call that a win.

All in all, I'm sure the writers and producers and director of the movie added these foreshadowing events on purpose, EXACTLY for that purpose, but it's not always a guarantee that the audience will pick up on it the first time they see the movie, and come to their own conclusions before they're proven right. Most of the time, hindsight is 20/20. Also, the audience wasn't helped into the suspense other than the fact that it became night and past midnight (the witching hour). There were no ominous tones (Peter Brenner obviously wasn't tapped to compose the score), so it was a teensy, little bit harder to be subconsciously alerted that bad juju was about to take place.

I wouldn't say the movie was bad, and as I said before, I don't think I watched the movie under the proper circumstances, but hey, what can you do? I'm in a 3rd world, war-torn country defending freedom (to a degree), and my berthing is made of plywood. I think I'm a little more worried about a mortar attack than demonic activity in a Muslim nation. I'm sure under the right circumstances, I would have been more scared of this movie, similar to my initial feelings of "The Ring". They say that the beauty and masterpiece that makes this movie so scary is the fact that they don't "show the monster", and leave it up to your mind's wildest imagination to scare you, most of which is done once you're back home in the dark, listening to the bumps in the night. However, that's exactly what prevented me from getting to place. My mind just wasn't able to trick itself into fear this time around. And listening for explosions and gunfire is a little more scary and real than wondering what that "bump" in my B-Hut was (it was probably a soldier trying to quietly masturbate in his room).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Don't Even Bang Unless You Plan To Hit Somethang


Book02: "Shadow Puppets" by Orson Scott Card

As you can imagine, "Shadow Puppets" continues the story left off by "Shadow of the Hegemon". In this fictional future of our planet, China has invaded and conquered India and Southeast Asia, led by the insane antagonist, Achilles (aH-Sheel). Bean, Petra, Suriyawong, and the Hegemon, Peter Wiggin, have all moved to Brazil with their families in an attempt to establish the office of the Hegemon and to do whatever good they can for the world. Of course, this new life is not one of "happily ever afters", and they all find themselves on the run and fearing their lives as Achilles rises to power yet again. It will take everything they have in their power to maneuver through this world broiled in political and military turmoil to survive and hopefully come out on top.

Yet again, Card brings a superb story wrapped in military and political suspense to the masses who have been eagerly awaiting new novels since "Ender's Game" first hit the shelves some 25 years ago. However, Card takes a different spin on his characters in "Puppets". These Battle School graduates, now teenagers, were born and bred geniuses. They are the cream of the crop in military strategists and leaders. But they are still human, and that's what Card explores in "Puppets". Bean, thought by his peers to be cold and detached, examines his human emotions, and finds himself in new HUMAN relationships that he had never experienced before, or had previously denied himself. Peter Wiggin, trying to make a name for himself to get out from under Ender's shadow, has to face the truth that he does make mistakes, and must answer for them to his parents like a rebellious teenager, despite holding one of the most respected and powerful (though maybe only in title) political positions in the world, proving yet again that "Mother (and Father) knows best". Card also re-introduces secondary characters from Battle School, who have risen to positions of power in their countries, and must deal with the religious, political, military, and personal ethics that engulf those new positions.

Reading the Acknowledgments section in the back of the book, I saw that Card mentioned one of the problems he ran into while writing "Puppets" was that he wrote it during the war in Afghanistan between the United States and its allies against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces ("Puppets" was published in 2002). Card states that since he was writing about the future state of relations between the Muslim world and the Western world, he had to "predict" how our world's current situation would be resolved. Being a military service member currently serving in Afghanistan, this afterthought intrigued me. In the novel, war was delivered between countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. It didn't surprise me that the war took place between these nations. Looking at the major "hot spots" for potential or current military conflict in the world today, you'll find that they are the same regions Card uses for war in his story. What DID surprise me was the fact that the United States and Western Europe were not involved with Card's war, and in fact, were barely mentioned in the story. How were we able to keep ourselves out of the rest of the world's business??? I received no answers from Card's book (not that I was looking for one), but it was an interesting take on the world's future.

Even before reading the Acknowledgments portion of the book, I already felt an eerie parallel between this chapter in the Ender saga and the way our world is today, and the way it's been for a long time now. I suppose it's the fact that the story takes place on Earth versus space, and that the countries and religions and ideas poked at by Card are the very ones that seem to be on the forefront of news today that make the story real, but the main theme that I reached from "Puppets" and from seeing the world around me is that you can't please everyone.

Monday, November 2, 2009

And I'm Proud to be an American...

and so begins the great quest to prove literary endurance and prowess...

Book 01: "Shadow of the Hegemon" by Orson Scott Card

Hegemon continues the "Ender's Shadow" series, following Ender's right hand man, Bean, and the rest of Ender's jeesh as they return to Earth and must now deal with their new status as historical/military celebrities, as well as potential weapons.

If you didn't understand more than 1/3 of what I just wrote, I suggest you read "Ender's Game" first (also by Orson Scott Card). Trust me. You will NOT be disappointed.

In Hegemon, Card continues to do what he did so well in his first two Ender novels, which are creating and narrating deep, vivid characters with rich back stories, and keeping the anticipation and tension high throughout the entire story. However, that's not what I enjoyed most about Hegemon. The thing that interested me most was the heavy use of national identity throughout the book. The Battle School children came from around various countries around the world, training and uniting to defeat a common, non-human enemy that threatened Earth. However, upon returning back to Earth and to their respective homes, they are no longer just heroes of Earth. They're Thai or Indian or Belgian or Russian or Greek. They are national heroes and representatives of their home country, and most of them accept and believe in that identity.

Card amplifies these identities through a war between nations, with the children becoming military leaders, and so their national pride becomes a very important factor. It's that national pride that really struck home with me. Being a military service member currently serving overseas, of course there is some semblance of national pride within in me, and I'm even more conscious of it by being in a foreign country and surrounded by military men and women from a variety of other countries. We each wear our country's uniform and its colors, and that's great over here, but I know for certain that pride is not as easily seen back home (at least, I dont see it), and I think that's a little bit sad.

Card uses countries like India and Thailand and Pakistan and Russia and China, and all the characters from those countries are so proud of who they are and where they came from, which I admired, but I didn't get the same feeling when Card wrote about the United States. Basically, the United States was described as a country with no strong national identity, who's leaders were more concerned with economic ties and keeping the gravy train flowing than being a world presence. It felt like America was written off as being full of people who were more interested in their personal gain/wealth than what could be accomplished as a whole nation. Now, I don't think Card was on a soap box or anything like that (I usually steer clear of works like that; yes, Green Day, I'm talking about your last 2 albums), but I couldn't help but feel some truth in his fictional account of the United States. Gone are the days of apple pie and baseball and pride in the American flag and pride in each other (yes, all these things are here today, but only as themselves; not symbols of national unity); now it seems as if we're all just in it for ourselves. I mean, that IS the American way; personal freedom so that you can be who you want to be and voice whatever opinion you want to voice. I just wish the stereotype of our national identity today was more than just being ignorant, boastful consumers.

Overall, Hegemon plays with the ideas of nationalism and military history and military strategy very well, which has always been a strong point in Card's stories. Anyone with an ounce of interest in those subjects will obviously enjoy Hegemon. It's a well-written fictional story, and while I don't think Card necessarily meant to say anything specific with his allusions to the real world, I'm glad that the story did make me consider my own patriotism.

Next up: "Shadow Puppets" by Orson Scott Card

(YES, there are currently 2 more books in the series, and YES, I intend to finish this story)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm Working So I Wont Have To Try So Hard..

There was an anecdote in "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell about a retired Army officer who participated in a simulated war game for the U.S. government, acting as the leader of the opposition. While the U.S.-led military collected and pined over heaps and heaps of intelligence and information, the opposition decided against that strategy and instead decided to simply act on what little they knew. The opposition won by a landslide.



In this world, there are too many ways to say what you mean.

On the other hand, there are only so many good ways to say it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We've Only Just Begun...To Live.

I'M DOING IT. LET THE GAMES BEGIN.

Pajiba Cannonball Read DEUX

Well...let them begin on 01NOV.

Whilst I was training to switch from Navy Blue/Gold to Army Green at Fort Jackson, I was reading 300+pg books at a pace of 1 a week, resulting in 4 books read. Let's see if I can keep up my literary prowess whilst stationed out here in Afghanistan and beyond.

Books read in those 4 weeks:

1) "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer
2) "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
3) "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell
4) "Ender's Shadow" by Orson Scott Card

The books I plan to start 01NOV and hope to finish by 30NOV:

1) "Shadow of the Hegemon" by Orson Scott Card
2) "Shadow Puppets" by Orson Scott Card
3) "Shadow of the Giant" by Orson Scott Card
(So I want to fckn see how Bean ends this shit. Sue me.)
4) "The Jordan Rules" by Sam Smith

Wish me luck as I quest to tackle 52 books in as many weeks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jesus Walks With Them

Lt. j.g. Bradshaw was bug-eyed, staring straight ahead. He wasn't keeping his excellent military bearing; he wasn't utilizing his Thousand Yard stare. Lt. j.g. Bradshaw had spaced out. He had been up for God knows how long, being run here and there. He was dragged just about everywhere on base in a hurry, and then told to wait. And wait. And wait. And hydrate. And wait.

"God, when will this be over?!" Bradshaw thought to himself. He was frustrated inside, but it only lasted a few moments, and he didn't dare let it slip out and manifest. He had to keep his military bearing; as much of it as he could anyway. Be the rock; be strong. Don't be a prissy brat. Don't show you can't take it, especially not in front of the enlisted. Do NOT be that guy.

In all honesty, he just wanted to hurry up and get to the desert. He had been dreading being shipped overseas and being, quite literally, the Tip of the Spear. It wasn't at all what he had signed up for; they signed him up for this. Thank you, all. But after spending four days in this training environment, he was tired. Lt. j.g. Bradshaw just wanted to hurry up and get to the desert and do his job. He hated having to go there in the first place, but he was going to do his job and do it well. Then he was going to go back home and pray he never had to do it again. The training environment was the real annoyance. He'd get over the desert in time, once he settled in and found his battle rhythm. It would be HIS rhythm. HE would dictate it, as much as possible. Here they told him where to go and what to do and what time to be there. And they told him to wait.

He didn't want to wait anymore.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Devil and God Rage Inside of Me

I've settled into my new digs here at Ft. McCrady, the Army-trains-the-Navy command. It's not bad; it harkens to Marine Week during CORTRAMID, so in that regard, it's not anything I havent been through before. I dont think I'm the most junior officer here (because of LDOs), but I think I'm the most junior PERSON by far. I know the Army doesnt pay much attention to rank, but I really do feel like a youngin' out here with all these people.

It's a funny thing, these feelings that I'm constantly battling with. Of course, I dont want to be here and if I had my choice, I'd choose to be suffering a lack of QoL (Quality of Life) on the #1 ship in the Fleet, but there are definitely some benefits to this IA. The only reservation is that my soul is struggling between dealing with the pros and cons of this deployment now that it has become reality.

For one thing, I'm proud to be here. I will literally be on the tip of the spear. In my career, I've been dealing with feelings of "inadequacy" due to not having achieved anything substantial in my 2 year career so far. This literally puts me in the fight, and is something few sailors (at least back in the day) will ever get to say. Along with feeling like I'm actually doing something in my career, I feel like I'll be learning/doing something BADASS in my career. The Army/Marine Corps are DEFINITELY not a life I'd want to live, but you have to admit, they are badass. This is due to a number of things, but on that list are 1) carrying/using weapons, and 2) badassery missions (things like recon and land nav). What am I doing here? Learning/Being a badass.

Obviously the other side of the feelings that my soul is struggling with is just not wanting to be here. I dont want to do this training. I dont want to be away from my family and my friends and my home and Laurie. I dont want to travel to Afghanistan and I dont want to be in the line of fire and I dont want to be in a war zone where I have to stay alert at all times in order to best be prepared to save my ass if shit hits the fan. That's NOT what I signed onto the Navy to do.

But it's something I have to deal with now.

I can 0nly hope that it's "first day" jitters and that as time goes on and my training continues, I will be more focused and determined to do my mission in the time frame I've been given, then get the FCK out of here and go back home. Or I'll just be more distracted. I've already decided I dont want to deploy with Wasp next year (meaning I will not earn my warfare pin) because Quality of Life is more important to me than rank or awards or accomplishments. I can live without something that will all be just a matter of pride for me.

So stick by me as I battle my own heartaches and emotional shortcomings. I plan to make it out of this all the better.

Being Grown Up...

Mr. Holson gripped the wooden handle of his umbrella in his left hand as he stepped around a puddle. The sidewalk was wet. It had briefly rained earlier that morning, and Mr. Holson had waited for the rain to stop before stepping outside. The rain drops were small and light, but Mr. Holson didn’t want to risk getting wet. It would be a bother to him the rest of the day if he came home wet.

In his right hand, gripped snuggly between his arm and his body, Mr. Holson carried a newspaper. He did not want it to get wet. The rain had stopped, but you could never tell when it might start again. Also, the trees dripped tiny droplets of rain water. Mr. Holson felt the quiet patter of the droplets fall from the trees onto his umbrella and pulled his newspaper more closely to his body.

The newspaper had cost Mr. Holson seventy-five cents. He picked it up every morning from the grocery store that was just down the street from his home, at the corner of his block. Mr. Holson’s son once offered to get Mr. Holson a newspaper subscription. His son told him it would be delivered to his front door every morning before Mr. Holson had even woken up, and it’d save him time because he wouldn’t have to walk down the street for his paper anymore. Mr. Holson refused. He had nothing but time, he told his son. Besides, Mr. Holson liked walking to the grocery store at the corner of his block every morning. He liked that he knew it took exactly fifty-seven steps from the bottom of his front steps to get to the corner store. He liked the wooden, green grocery door that had a little bell attached to it that rang every time he slowly opened the door. He liked how Mr. Curry, a young man in his mid-forties who owned the corner grocery store, greeted him every morning from behind the counter with a big wave and a big smile. He liked the smells of donuts and sugars and fresh apples and coffee that mixed together all at once inside the store. He liked picking up his newspaper from the very top of the stack, the first copy Mr. Curry sold every morning. And Mr. Holson liked walking the fifty-seven steps back to his home, gripping the newspaper under his right arm, the same way he had every morning for the last ten years.

As Mr. Holson took his forty-ninth step from the corner, he turned his gaze from the wet sidewalk below him to the tall building in front of him. The building was old. Blue shudders encased every window, but the paint was faded and peeling. Many of the bricks that lined the front of the building were chipped and eroded. The rails that lined the front stoop up to the door were rusty and creaked whenever you grabbed hold of them.

Mr. Holson looked up at the old building as he reached his fifty-seventh step and arrived at the base of his front stoop. He did not think about how old the building was or how he had lived in it for over twenty-five years. He didn’t think about all the hot summers where he had to prop every window open in order to get some air to blow through his home. He didn’t think about his wife or the music that would flow through the walls and the windows every time she put her favorite record on. He didn’t think about how lonely he had been for the past eight years after his wife passed away. Most of all, he didn’t think about the letter he received four months ago from the city, telling him that he would have to move from his home and take residence up somewhere else.

Mr. Holson did not think of any of these things. He only stood at the bottom of his stoop and stared at the old building, still clutching the newspaper snuggly in his right arm. Mr. Holson stared at the building and sighed a heavy breath of air from his mouth. He looked down at the stoop and began climbing the steps towards the front door.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blue Skies, Broken Hearts...Next 12 Exits

"Did you notice how blue the sky is today?"
Up above, the sky was a bright and vivid blue. There were only a few clouds in the sky, wispy and long, as if someone had stretched them across the sky, trying to cover the endless blue color. It was one of those days where someone would look out their window and decide to go for a slow bike ride with a friend or read a book under the shade of an oak tree or go for a quiet walk in the park; not because they wanted to, but because it would seem like a waste of a beautiful day if they didn’t do something outdoors.
"The temperature is pretty good today too. Not too hot, there's a slight breeze blowing every now then. It's just the right amount of warm."
"Jon, will you take a look at this? I'm having a hard time deciding…what shade of blue the dresses should be…"
Jon didn’t say a word to Kathy and pretended that he didn’t hear her. She wouldn’t notice he had ignored her. She was occupied, looking at pictures of bridesmaid dresses, muttering opinions and thoughts to herself under her breath. Jon knew Kathy was just thinking out loud and she didn’t really want his opinion on bridesmaid dresses. "Wedding details are for the bride anyway," John thought to himself. He refocused his eyes on the sky above him.
"I don’t know why we don’t come out here more often. What's the point of having a patio and a grassy lawn if you don’t come outside and enjoy it as often as you can? I think I want to start coming outside more often."
"Blue and silver? Maybe not a really metallic silver, but something more subdued…almost like a gray…Or maybe white would look nicer? I don’t know. Everything just goes with blue."
"Maybe after the wedding, I'll get a better grill and we can come out here and grill. We can grill steaks, fish, chicken...I heard it's healthier for you anyway; grilling."
"Oh yeah, Jon, did you call your groomsmen? We need to get them fitted this weekend for the tuxes. I know I said they could send their sizes in, but I'd prefer if we just got all of them fitted at one time, order all the tuxes together, and just be done with it."
Jon imagined what his yard might look like a year from now. The patio was a good size, but maybe new patio furniture would be good. If he was going to get a grill, he should get new furniture so everyone could sit outside while he cooked. His wife and their guests would look out at the grass and admire how well he kept his lawn. They'd comment on how perfect the weather was; how it wasn’t too warm and how great the breeze felt, blowing across the yard every now and then. Then they'd all look up and just stare blankly at the few wispy clouds that seemed to be stretched across the blue sky.
"Honey, look at that cloud."
"Hmm?"
Kathy looked up, following Jon's finger to a puff of cloud. She didn’t think it looked like anything. She looked at all the other clouds, using her hand to shield her eyes from the sunlight, trying to see if maybe there was another cloud Jon was pointing to that looked like an animal or a car or a dragon or something. Then Kathy just stared at the sky.
"Wow."
"What?"
"Did you notice how blue the sky is today?"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ACrossover the Universe

Comic books used to be the very indicator of the kind of person I was, at my core. Back in the day, if you were to define me in the way that people in high school like to stereotype and generalize a person's majority trait and make that their singular trait, I would have happily accepted "comic book guy". I would have also accepted "punk music guy", but in my heart of hearts, comic books always dominated the music.

I've fallen off the band wagon. It was not one defining moment. It began right after high school. I had steadily fallen off the band wagon as I steadily grew during college. Money for my precious comic books soon became money for my precious beer (nine times out of ten, probably worth it). And then I graduated and moved to Pensacola. With little else better to do and all this new money that they apparently give to you after you graduate college at this place called a "job", I resumed my love of comic books. I attempted to get back into the "scene", and started reading 10 or so different titles, and tried to stay up to date on all the news and "haps". It was a blissful existence, but it only last a short year and half. Then real work started and basically destroyed everything, as it often does. But this so-called "growing up" cannot be held fully responsible. No, I must cast some of the blame on the comic book industry.

My first reason is simple and not a thing can be done about it. There are a handful of writers that I truly, truly enjoy; Grant Morrison, Brian Michael Bendis, J. Michael Straczynski, and Mark Millar are a some of these few. Whenever they jump to a new project, I always follow one or two issues, and if I like the mix, then I'll continue following their run. The mix is a very delicate thing, though. I've already established that I like those writers, but I also have to like the character(s) their writing as an established entity (like I like Batman, but I dont like Aquaman so much; I'm more willing to follow one of these writers on "Batman" than on "Aquaman"), I have to like THEIR interpretation of the character(s) (I almost always do), and I have to be accepting of the art (out of their control). I'm picky, so the mix weighs heavily on me.
So I may follow forty-ish issues of a writer (i.e. Grant Morrison's run on JLA), but the inevitable happens. The writer leaves the series. Of course this is going to happen; it ALWAYS happens. The same guy cant write the same comic his entire career. For one thing, in all likelihood, he'll run out of ways to be interesting with the characters and the stories. Fck, he's been doing it for the last five years (or whatever length). For another thing, he himself has probably grown tired of the characters and telling these stories. I mean, these are highly creative people, but what do you when you've worn out your muse over fifty issues? You have to move on. And so they move on. I mean, you wouldnt want to see an actor play the same role his entire career, would you?

Another thing has been the PLAGUE of the comic book story for years and years, but it feels like it's gotten a lot worse the last five years or so. I HATE all of these new crossovers. Period. I hate crossovers. Crossovers used to be cool because you got to see characters interact with each other when they normally wouldnt, but like I said, lately, it's been absolutely DREADFUL. Lately, it seems like the characters dont only crossover, but the books do as well, and when you have a set of characters (say the X-Men) who have no less than seven titles related to their history (seven sounds right for the X-Men, but I bet I forgot a few) and you're forced to have to follow all SEVEN books to get the entire crossover story in its entirety for three to five months (if not longer), it becomes a complete pain in the ass. I dont even like all the books! I like, maybe, two of the books, but to get the whole story, I have to read the other five as well. It's a pain in the ass! One solution might have been to suck it up and continue on with gaps in the story. Mostly these gaps are filled in the issues by characters back-tracking and relaying what happened in some issue last month anyway, but that just seems phony and filler to me. I blame my pickiness, but I have to read the entire story as it happened. I hate when stories have these back logging fillers. It's all a con; an easy way out. It seems so cheap.

Truth be told, these are all things that comic book enthusiasts always realize and always complain and always live with despite our incessant nagging and cynicism. The love for the material and the characters is too great. I'm sure it's the same for any person with a hobby their passionate about, whether it be NFL, NBA, or any other sports enthusiast or a cinephile or really anything and anybody. The people who live for the material will always find all these little things to complain about, but it's just proof that they really know what they're talking about. It's proof that they really love this stuff. You always fall off the wagon, but it's never too late for you to jump back on. You're never too far behind.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Adrian Veidt Probably Forwards All His Chain Letters

After taking a lot of time to think deeply about "Watchmen" so that I could write a competent review of the movie, I found another part of the movie that bothered me, and it occurs in the comic book as well.

Adrian Veidt is supposedly the world's smartest man in the "Watchmen" universe. He tricked, more or less, the whole world into not killing themselves. Like his idol, Alexander of Macedonia, Veidt excelled at thinking outside of the box, thus allowing him to "solve" great riddles and problems (like stopping nuclear holocaust). I mean, all the proof is in the comic to back that Veidt could've quite possibly have been the smartest man in the world, or at least he was really REALLY intelligent.

What bothers me the most is that Veidt, for all his intelligence, was not able to stop Nite Owl II and Rorschach from hacking into his computer files, which did not become his downfall, but did lead to a confrontation and the forced revealing of his dasterdly plot. Why was Adrian Veidt not able to stop Nite Owl II and Rorschach? BECAUSE HE MADE A REALLY REALLLY REEAALLLYYY EASY AND OBVIOUS COMPUTER PASSWORD.

Sorry, it might just be me, but seriously? That's it? "Ramses II"? How did he think no one was going to figure out his password? I mean for God's sakes, it's the other name for his superhero name! Did he really sit as his office desk pondering what he should lock his computer, which held all his secret files and plans for world survival despite ethical issues, and then go, "Aha! I have it! How about the alternate name for my superhero identity?! No one will figure that one out!"

Computer security might be difficult if you're dealing with world-reknowned or experienced hackers, etc., but it should never be as easy as that. He didn't even use a number (not a real number). The "II" was achieved by typing 2 upper case 'I's. If had made it "Ramses2", it would've been a better password than the one he choose. Fck man. The password to log into my online home water bills website is harder than that; and I'm not even mentioning UVA's computing account passwords or my Navy NKO password. You'd think Adrian Veidt, world's smartest man, would be a bit more versed in computer security.

In his defense though (as I learned in AP English 11, you have to present counter argument), he probably never thought that someone would make it into his office unnoticed. Or maybe he had already completely retired his business (since the building looked deserted upon Rorschach and Nite Owl II's arrival, as indicated by Dreiberg) and didn't really care about the information in his computer anymore. But then again, that sounds stupid. Even if you're not going to use the information or office anymore, you'd destroy records and files of highly confidential material.

Maybe he was so sure of his success that he just didn't give a damn?

Still, that's stupid.

Adrian Veidt was stupid. I'd probably be able to hack into his facebook account and change his status to "Adrian Veidt is the stupidest man in the world".

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

NO! MY FACE!! GIVE IT BACK!!! PART DEUX!!!



Another point that I saw that MIGHT be attributed to the fast pace of the script was actor's mailing in their lines. There were a few scenes/actors that just seemed... amateur. Like I was watching a high school audition for the spring show. It just seemed as though lines were spoken just to be spoken; because that's what they say in the comic and that's what they need to say to move the story along. It's as if I didn't believe they were acting at all; I didn't believe that they were their character. It's like the director told them, "Here's your line. You're angry. Action!" and so they said the line "angrily". You didn't see an angry character that was part of this story. You saw a person make a statement. "Angrily". The most blatant examples of this were the Jupiters, both Sally and Laurel. Everyone else was good (The Comedian, Rorschach, Nite Owl II, Dr. Manhattan to a degree).

Which now brings me to my one complaint about a casting. MALIN AKERMAN. Smoking hot, but a terrible actress. I was already skeptical when I heard the announcement that she was going to be Silk Spectre II, and she proved it. Seriously though, the only times I was convinced by her "acting" was when she was filming her multiple sex scenes. I believed her then, BOTH times. Her first scene (Rorschach pays a visit to Rockefeller) just cemented it for me. UGH. I hoped that the following scenes would just get better, but every time she "acted" in a scene, one thought kept popping into my head: Jessica Alba, the Invisble Woman. I think it's safe to say that Jessica Alba is a TERRIBLE actress, particularly as the Invisble Woman, and Malin Akerman's portrayl of Silk Spectre II was right in line with Alba. THANK GOD she got naked (though it wasnt the first time she's done it; "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and "The Heartbreak Kid") because that was her only redeeming part in the movie.


Something stupid was your acting in this movie. Though I don't know who I thought would've fit the bill...

The music. The music, the music, the music. HOLY CRAP. I understand that it's a "period piece" so to speak, and they kept true to that by playing pop songs from the 70s and 80s, but GEEZ was the timing off. It seemed like they played up-beat, up-lifting songs in what I thought would be some of the most gloomy and solemn scenes. It totally ruined the mood of the scenes for me and just had me thinking, "Why the hell would you play this???" Even Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyries" playing during the Vietnam scene where Doc Manhattan is 50 ft. tall and exploes a bunch of VC seemed a bit overdone in a very campy way. Gotta say, not impressed with the score of the movie, in terms of where they used pop songs. But kudos to Peter Bretter or whoever was in charge of creating the "ominous tones"; they at least seemed in line with the mood of the scenes.

This one goes out to Dayday because I remembered commenting on this to Laurie in the theater, but forgot to write it down in my notes. It refers to the scene Dayday mentioned was missing. I'm sure you all caught indications of the scene though, right? The bar scene where Rorschach and Nite Owl II go shakedown to figure out who put out the hit on Veidt? Whilst Rorschach takes care of business, you see Dreiberg turn around and survey the bar, and low and behold, a knot top is sitting at the table in front of him, back turned to the masks, drinking his sorry drink. To me, it seemed as though perhaps the Hollis Mason scene/aspect of the movie was removed due to time constraints or maybe budgetary constraints, but seeing that scene definitely made me think that Snyder originally planned to have the Hollis Mason scene in the movie. Of course, it could've just been Snyder paying the utmost detail to the scenes in the book and translating them as such on the big screen, but I think they had to take Hollis Mason's grand finale out of the final cut.

So I went out and bought Wizard magazine with Rorschach on the cover about 2 weeks before the movie came out, and almost shit myself (well, not really because when I was reading this particular article, I already was taking a shit. With my pants off. On a toilet.) when I read that the ending would be changed. I remember seeing "Wanted" for the first time, and witnessing the major revisions done to the movie that altered the original comic book story. It basically COMPLETELY changed the movie, making it almost nearly no longer synonymous with the comic. It wasn't a bad movie, but it was no longer the comic book story. I feared the same for the "Watchmen", but I actually received the alterations in "Watchmen" much better. It seemed to make some sense (maybe not... wouldn't the rest of the world just blame the U.S. for all of it? Maybe I'm just cynical and pessimistic about human nature and compassion in a fictional 1985) and cleaned up the ending nicely without being an all-out farce of the comic book ending. I can't really say much without spoiling directly, but I ACCEPT the altered ending to the movie.

Another point for Dayday: the "action". When I read what you wrote on Gian's blog about the guys sitting behind you, I thought, "What the fck are those guys talking about???" You're probably correct in your assessment of their "Watchmen" knowledge. I assumed "action" meant "fight scenes", and if I'm correct in my assumptions, there was a WHOLE LOT more action in the movie than in the comic book. And I must say, I was pretty impressed with the fight scenes. They seemed well choreographed and gave you just enough to really enjoy them. Not like watching the fight scenes in the "X-Men" movie trilogy. That might not be fair since all the characters in "Watchmen" sans Dr. Manhattan have no powers and thus must fight solely using punches, kicks, etc. while the X-Men are just about REQUIRED to use their powers in a fight, thus constrained by the movie-making technology of the time to visualize that... but still, I think I make a point. I thought the fight scenes in "Watchmen" the movie were great. The one area the movie can be given a higher grade than the comic, though again, perhaps unfair due to being different story telling mediums.

I was semi-bothered by this. The part where Laurie Jupiter is remembering her childhood growing up and her mom and "father" are fighting, Sally Jupiter goes, "It was one time!" The really struck a chord with me. For one thing, THAT ISN'T HER LINE! For another thing, the delivery of the line seemed to lack... the "correct" emotion... which I think is the way the line was delivered in the comic. Again I say, I'm a slight comic book purist. So sue me.

I was also semi-bothered by the crowd during Rorschach's infamous "None of you get it..." line. I preface that with it's my favorite line in the whole comic book, so to hear it on screen and feel what I felt when I read the comic distracted by the laughter of the rest of the movie-viewing audience, I was a little heartbroken. Stop laughing at the wrong parts, people!

Final note: Holy crap, I couldn't believe how many parents took children that were NOT teenagers to this movie. Simply knowing what this story was, I was gasping when I saw parents leading their elementary school-aged children into the movie theater, probably thinking they were just going to see another "comic book" movie. Then I checked the rating of the movie. IT WAS RATED R. WHO BRINGS AN 8 YEAR OLD CHILD TO AN R-RATED MOVIE. I hope your children grow up with an unusual fear of superhuman blue weiners.

Also, small complaint that I'm too tired to really flesh out: the reveal of the Comedian's lineage by Dr. Manhattan to Silk Spectre II on the moon was COMPLETELY RETARDED. It sucked, plain and simple. It was overly blatant and that whole scene was terrible and devoid of the raw and real emotions the scene contained in the comic book. I know they couldn't and didn't want to (maybe) be as cryptic with that reveal as the comic book was (I mean, people reading the comic for the first time asked me to confirm what was hinted at by the scene in the comic book), but it still could have been done much better. Boo you, Zack Snyder and crew for that scene.

These are the things that Laurie was upset with in the movie. She read the book before she watched it, so she was well-informed (especially with me filling in whatever gaps or questions she might have had, heh heh..) and enjoyed the movie except for the following:

-Rorschach and Nite Owl II had to walk on foot to Karnak after Archie crashed because of a lack of HOVER BIKES. Honestly though, hoverbikes might've been her favorite part of the whole comic. I think the first thing she mentioned to me when she finished the story was that she wanted a hoverbike.

-She was also bothered by the fact that they didn't show Veidt's lush garden in the middle of Antarctica. Laurie really likes tropical places and was upset they didn't have it in the movie.


That's it, that's my review, complete with all the little points I wanted to call attention to. I tried my best not to put in any spoilers for those that haven't seen the movie yet. But if you haven't seen the movie yet and anything I said was a spoiler for you, you probably didn't read the comic book and probably, maybe are confused by or unsure of the points I made in this review. So what's the solution? GO READ THE COMIC BOOK.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I Looked Down and Whispered "No..".... Spelled 'Y-E-S'


As predicted, I went and watched "Watchmen" on Saturday morning before my NoVAsion. I'll tell you, that Friday was a tough day to get through. I got home from class at around 1300, 1400 maybe, and it took all my power to not just up and go to the theater then, but I wanted to wait for Laurie to watch it. Why didn't we go on Friday night when she got off work? Because it was too important. I couldn't let the experience of watching this movie be tarnished by rude teenagers et. al. who had nothing better to do on a Friday evening than hang out in the theaters (and by hang out, I mean talk to their friends, make noise, text, talk on cell phones, etc.; basically completely disrupt the movie). It really was that important to go when I knew there'd be the most minimal of distractions. I am a fanboy.

I suppose the movie is as good as it could've been. By that, I mean that I did enjoy the movie (high B, maybe a low A), but with all the advances in technology particularly in movie making, I wouldn't know if this movie could've been better made. Plus, I had a couple issues with casting and the such, which I will get to shortly.

As a fanboy, you're ALWAYS excited to see any comic story you love brought to life on the big screen. It's an unconditional excitement (note: this does not include movies such as "Daredevil", "Elektra", "Catwoman", "Ghost Rider", etc. ). But as a PURIST fanboy (which I find myself leaning more closely to versus "doesn't care what liberties Hollywood takes with the character/story"), you fear what Hollywood might do to make the story more appealing to the mainstream (instead of the original fans) and/or NEED to do to make the story work on the big screen, a much different medium from a comic book. Just ask Alan Moore when he was consulted about drafting a "Watchmen" screenplay back in 1986. In regards to Moore's opinion about "Watchmen" jumping into a different medium than it's original, I tend to agree though that didn't stop me from enjoying the movie.

Ugh. Gag me with a spoon, Nick Cage. You suck.

I skip the overall view (this review isn't for non-fanboys who don't know and perhaps have never read/heard of the comic "Watchmen") in favor of the specific points I wanted to discuss after leaving the theater.

When I first heard the movie was 2 hours and 40-ish minutes long, I thought, "That seems practical, seeing how the original story went into such great depth and detail." My girlfriend didn't seem as "accepting" of the running time as I did. After seeing the movie though, I feel as though the movie was rushed. Essentially, the movie just ran from scene to scene to scene, without a pause or a break for the audience to swallow and fully digest the motives, thoughts, themes, and emotions each scene was meant to invoke. I can't help but think that a person who has no prior experience/knowledge of "Watchmen" before watching the movie would feel lost during the viewing. I think I was able to fully grasp and feel every scene despite it rushing through the scenes because I have a previous relationship with the story. I know how the original is supposed to flow; I know the emotions associated with each scene, and their importance, therefore, I am able to fill in the story gaps and fill in the emotions that the movie seemed to completely rush past. The lack of minor characters and their contributions to the story and it's mood, though a necessity for the movie, contributed to this.

An example would be the impending nuclear holocaust thanks to the tensions of the Cold War. Yes, the movie mentions it over and over again, putting focus on it, but did you really feel the weight of that plot? Did you feel doomed whenever a character asked another, "Do you really think we're going to nuclear war?" Did you experience an escalation of fear every time a newspaper or news channel in the movie gave you a piece of the puzzle, foreshadowing WWIII (ie: Russia invading Afghanistan)? I do every time I read the comic, but I didn't during the movie, and that's coming from a "background" in "Watchmen". What more if I was a non-fan who was just taking in a new movie?

I suppose my major concern with that is because the movie leaves me empty and devoid of these emotions and their weight, I believe the non-fan will feel the same or even more apathetic, and that apathy will diminish the magnitude of "Watchmen". For fanboys, "Watchmen" is the Holy Grail. We all know it; we all know it's significance and treasure it as such because we've felt the immensity of the story. Make a "Watchmen" movie without those feelings, and people who don't know it will leave the theater asking themselves, "That was it? So why is this comic so important again? Why was everyone making such a big deal out of this story/movie?" And that would be a travesty.

Thank YOU, Alan Moore for this comic book Holy Grail.

More to come in the second installment, including: actors mailing in their lines, Malin Akerman IS Jessica Alba, the musical score, Niteowl II and the knot top, change of the ending, action/fight scenes, bringing children to "Watchmen", and crowd laughing at my favorite line.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Words I'd Like To Hear In A Rap Song

Hemoglobin

Definition:
an iron-containing respiratory pigment of vertebrate red blood cells that consists of a globin composed of four subunits each of which is linked to a heme molecule, that functions in oxygen transport to the tissues after conversion to oxygenated form in the gills or lungs, and that assists in carbon dioxide transport back to the gills or lungs after surrender of its oxygen.

Rap Definition: Weiner

Allegory

Definition:
the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence.

Rap Definition: Big, fat, ghetto booty

Correlation

Definition:
a relation existing between phenomena or things or between mathematical or statistical variables which tend to vary, be associated, or occur together in a way not expected on the basis of chance alone.

Rap Definition: Putting your weiner into a big, fat, ghetto booty

Antioxidant

Definition:
a substance (as beta-carotene or vitamin C) that inhibits oxidation or reactions promoted by oxygen, peroxides, or free radicals.

Rap Definition: Weiner