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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars VII

(I'm writing this immediately following my viewing of the film opening night, but out of respect for people who haven't seen it yet, I will wait a few days before publishing.)

My thoughts on the new Star Wars movie are simple. It was a hugely disappointing remake of the original film.
Seriously...the plot was nearly identical.

I haven't yet read any reviews, or heard any opinions from critics, so these thoughts are entirely my own.

First of all, and probably most importantly, the pacing of the film was terrible. It dragged along with no clear direction or incentive.  The more bad films I see, the more I am convinced that proper pacing is the most critical element of a good film. For an enthusiastic amateur like myself, it's hard to explain exactly why the pacing was off, but you definitely feel it when it is. Some parts drag while other parts feel rushed, but worst of all is when plot elements are forced into place, with no logical path as to how or why. Plot devices that are too contrived don't feel genuine. When the pacing is good, you don't really notice because everything about the story flows naturally. Unfortunately I felt bored through most of The Force Awakens, and was constantly raising my eyebrow at things that didn't seem to work. In my opinion, the two critical things to create good pacing are a finely crafted script, and expert editing, and The Force Awakens didn't have either.

One of the elements of the film that especially didn't feel genuine was the humor. Although Star Wars is a sci-fi adventure with humorous elements, it is first and foremost a drama. Dramas must feel real and sincere, regardless of the context or setting.  In order to feel sincere, humor must be earned, and it has to develop naturally. Introduce humor too early and you tell the audience that this isn't to be taken seriously. That was the problem with The Force Awakens, they introduced humorous elements almost immediately and they felt out of place. Before we knew anything about the characters, they were cracking jokes and spouting off catchphrases and witty one-liners. It felt more like a comedic homage to Star Wars rather than an actual sequel.

As far as the acting goes, I will say that I was impressed with Daisy Ridley, but everyone else was disappointing, including the veterans of the series. Harrison Ford really seemed to be phoning-it-in, and John Boyega was just painful to watch. I typically love Domhnall Gleeson, but he felt terribly miscast. He was very much a paper-thin mustache-twirling villain. Adam Driver's Kylo Ren was a little more interesting...at least until the mask came off, and then he was not at all convincing.

My biggest complaint about the film is that it didn't make me feel anything. I didn't care about any of the characters, I didn't care about their mission, I didn't feel like there was anything at stake, and worst of all, there were never any moments that made me want to cheer for anyone. There was just no feeling to the film at all. I got more feels from the trailer than I did from any part of the actual film. I don't know who edited the trailer, but they need to give J.J. Abrams some lessons.
As a side note, I find it odd that some of the best moments from the trailer, didn't make it into the finished film.

I'm not convinced that every great film must follow the textbook plot phases of exposition, rising and falling action, climax, and resolution, but there is no denying that this approach is effective. The Force Awakens kind of muddied those all together focusing too much on the rising and falling action, and lost the climax in the mix. Losing the climax really makes the resolution feel shallow, and leaves the audience with some level of dissatisfaction. A perfect example of film climax is in the original Star Wars. Amid the tension of the Death Star battle, Han Solo literally flies into action, allowing Luke to fire that final torpedo, and the audience is still in awe as the Death Star spectacularly explodes. The build up of tension takes quite a while, and the climactic moment takes all of ten seconds, but leaves the audience feeling totally satisfied. There was no clear moment like that in The Force Awakens. The final victory was too fragmented between the characters, and even after the big battle had been won, there were still other smaller battles just starting. Again, poor pacing, and no clear climax.

Based on his other films, I had almost no faith in J.J. Abrams when he was announced as the director. Despite that, I knew that he was a fan of Star Wars, and hoped that if he was ever going to break his pattern and do something especially well, it would be this film. Unfortunately my lack of faith has just been reinforced yet again. J.J. Abrams has no idea how to make a good original film. All he knows how to do is borrow elements from better films, and stitch them together into a hollow imitation. Very disappointing. As a long time Star Wars fan, I prefer to believe that the Timothy Zahn books are the true continuation of the films.

I give this film 2 stars out of 5.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My List of Life/Dating Advice

People love to give advice, and most of the time it isn't particularly helpful.
Sometimes though, someone will share something that actually makes a difference.
For several years now I've kept a list of the more useful tips that have come my way.
I've shared portions of my list with several people over the years, and generally they seem to find it helpful.
I've decided to publish this list on my blog, so that more people can benefit from the things I've learned as I have struggled through single life.
A lot of this may seem like common sense, but hey...you have to figure it out sometime.

Here is my list:

-Don't try any new grooming techniques just before a date or an important event. These things rarely turn out well the first time.

-People usually want to date people that other people also want to date. Going on dates makes you more attractive. This also means that if you want to go out with someone, chances are you will have competition. Be prepared to be patient, be persistent, and avoid jealousy.

-The least interested person is usually in control of the relationship.

-In relationships, you have to pick your battles. Some things aren't worth getting upset over. Learn to forgive and forget, especially when you are only upset because you want to be with them. Don't risk hurt feelings over delays, bad days, and things beyond their control.

-Don't waste your energy on flakes or ice-queens. They may appear interesting and attractive, but they are cold, elusive, selfish, and inconsiderate, and you don't want someone like that.

-When things don't work out with someone, you may never find out exactly what happened, and they don't owe you an explanation. Just accept this and move on.

-When things don't work out, don't beat yourself up. It could just be due to differences in taste, or expectations, and not anything wrong with you. Remember the words of Captain Picard. "It is possible to commit no errors and still lose. This is not weakness, it is life."

-Dating is like playing poker. If you bet too much, too early in the game, you will overwhelm them and cause them to fold. You start by placing small bets, and see if they match it. This gives each of you time to gain confidence in the strength of your hand, and become more invested.
Also in poker, the strength of your hand can change with time as more cards are revealed. The same goes for dating.  Be patient. Don't try to force things to happen too quickly.

-Don't play games with people's feelings, and be willing to forgive when misunderstandings arise. Almost nobody is really good at dating, and everyone will make mistakes, so be kind.

-Don't get discouraged when things don't work out after a few dates. The vast majority of dates will not result in a relationship, and most people will have many failed relationships along the way. Focus on learning from each experience, and don't give up. This will prepare you for when you finally do meet the right person. You will be able to recognize that things with them are different, and better.

-Yeah...asking someone out is scary and hard. Do it anyway! You might say the wrong thing and mess it up...probably lots of times...but the only way to get better is with practice, and it is ok to practice. Luckily, we all get lots of chances.

-It is totally ok to just go up to someone and introduce yourself. As long as you are friendly and confident, it will not seem creepy. Just smile, say "hello, I'm so-and-so", wait for them to introduce themselves, and everything else will follow naturally.
If they are in a group, it also helps if you don't just focus on the one person. Be universally friendly, and remember people's names. People take notice when someone ignores others in a group, or when a guy approaches a group, and only talks to the girls while ignoring all the other guys. Don't be that person. It's weird.

-Dating is almost always confusing and frustrating, but once in a while you click with someone, and suddenly it becomes easy. Enjoy those times, and when things are particularly rough, hold on to the hope of those possibilities.

-Learn to not get offended, and practice this skill often. It really is a frame of mind. When someone says or does something that hurts you, don't over think things and invent circumstances and reasons for their offense. This will just build resentment, and will make you feel even worse. Give them the benefit of the doubt, because the offense was probably not intentional anyway.

-"You can't reason with crazy."

-Sometimes, all it takes is 20 seconds of insane courage to make great things happen. (We Bought a Zoo.)

-If you find yourself in a slump, set a goal to get rejected ten times in a month. Since you are planning on getting rejected, it takes the pressure off, and removes a lot of the disappointment. Something good will come from this exercise.

-Sometimes people really are busy, and other times they are just flaky. Be persistent. If they aren't giving you obvious signs of disinterest, ask them out until they give you a definite "no". Don't put all your eggs in one basket though. You should be asking out other people at the same time. Remember that people are usually interested in people that others want to date. If they are just flaky, they will drift away, but if they are just busy, and they see you being proactive, they will find time for you.

-Often there are two conflicting philosophies on dating. Some argue in favor of serendipity and that things will just happen when the time is right.  Others say that you have to make your own opportunities. Really it is a combination of both. Be brave, do hard things, and act on opportunities when they arise. Go talk to that person you see across the room! When things go well, looking back it will feel like serendipity, but really you had to do something hard to get there.

-The old adage that words can never hurt is false. Words can and do hurt. Remember to always be kind.

-Find someone that you want to put above yourself. This is the best indication of real love.

-Forget the idea of "choosing" someone. Just do what you are supposed to do, go on dates, and one day things will just click with someone. They choose you as much as you choose them.

-"I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person." -Cary Grant

-The only people worth following are the ones you want to be like.

-Don't focus on finding the right person as much as being the right person. This is old advice, but it is true.

-When contemplating marriage, don't get stressed out because you don't know what your marriage will be like.  Remember that the two of you together are the ones making the rules, so you can make your marriage whatever you want it to be.

-Occasionally you will meet an attractive person that seems very compatible with you, but for whatever reason they won't make themselves available. It is easy to get hung up on these people. Be willing to let them go. You want someone who wants to be with you, and will make you a priority. Besides, you can't force someone to like you.

-Fortune favors the bold.

-If you are feeling anxiety about your relationship and have a lack of confidence in its solidarity, it is probably for good reason. Talk it out, don't drag it out.

-If someone wants to walk out of your life, let them go. If you know that you were at your best, and treated them well, then you can move on with no regrets.

-Learn to be happy by yourself. Get yourself sorted out first. A relationship won't fix you or make you happy if you aren't already happy on your own.

-Being single does not mean that there is something wrong with you, just as being married does not mean that everything is right with you. There are plenty of screwed up married people, and plenty of amazing single people. Your relationship status has no bearing on your individual worth.


That's all I have for now, but this list is constantly growing, so this may turn out to be a living blog post, updated from time to time. I hope some of these things turn out to be helpful.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Emotional Parks and Rec Response

Recently I've gotten into Parks and Rec.
I know...I know... I'm way behind...
In my defense, I tried to get into it a while ago, but after making it midway through season 2, I still wasn't liking it.
Luckily, due to the influence of my awesome girlfriend, I gave season 2 another chance, and it finally got good!

Anyway, the other day I had a whole emotional experience in response to an episode.
Saturday morning, I watched a few episodes before going for a long and difficult bike ride.
I don't know why, but for some reason when I am under physical stress, my emotions are closer to the surface.

As I was breathing hard and struggling up a big hill, a particular portion of dialog came to mind, and I got all emotional and misty eyed.
In the scene, Ben goes to the chief of police to ask for a favor in behalf of Leslie Knopp.
Ben was really nervous, because they were asking for a lot.
After hearing the request, the chief tells him, "Leslie Knopp gets as many favors as she wants."
Confused by his generosity, Ben says, "Can I ask why?"
The chief simply says, "Because she's the sort of person who uses favors to help other people."

When I first heard this, I didn't think much of it, but for some reason, in that moment of exertion, that scene really had an impact on me. I feel like it is a profound testimony of the value of character. We should all aspire to live our lives in such a way that similar things could be said of us.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Go Set a Watchman: Review



Yesterday I eagerly received my copy of the new novel from Harper Lee!
I stayed up all night to finish it.

In short, I thought this book was brilliant, prophetic, and the time of publishing couldn't have been more perfect! I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.
Pretty much the only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is because it didn't feel as delightfully re-readable as To Kill a Mockingbird. The last third of the book has a lot of conflict and hostility, and I think that might be difficult to tackle again and again.

Overall, an excellent book, well worth the wait, and well worth reading.


Now, on to my detailed review...

Prior to its release, I purposefully avoided reading any advanced reviews.
I wanted to experience it for myself first.

Despite that, I did hear some whisperings that fans of To Kill a Mockingbird would find it shocking, that the character of Atticus Finch was very different, and that it was generally disappointing.

I bring this up because I just want to say that I didn't find any of these things to be true.
I was very pleased with the characters, and the story.
To me, it felt like being reunited with long lost friends, and getting to know them all over again.
It was a wonderful experience.

Here are some things I especially liked about GSAW:

-Atticus felt like the same kind, wise character, just older and in declining health. Pretty much an authentic feeling old man version of Atticus Finch. I had no problems with his character.
-By the same token, Jean Louise Finch felt exactly like an adult version of the free spirited, headstrong, unorthodox self that we fell in love with in the first book.
-All of the characters were written so well!
-It is really funny! There were so many good lines that just had me grinning, and many funny and delightful moments throughout.
-It felt very genuine. You would go from laughing one moment, to being moved almost to tears in the next. It is a very thoughtful book. Sometimes even a bit heartbreaking.
-Harper Lee is very clever in describing her characters. she does it slowly, a piece at a time, over the course of the story. Each time you get a significant detail about one of the characters, it is like a little treasure being revealed. You really do get to fall in love with the characters all over again, and get to know them in their new stages of life. I loved it!


OK, I want to get into the story a little bit, so if you haven't finished it yet, you might want to skip this last section. I won't give outright spoilers, but I do hint at significant events.


First, I think that it is essential to understand the origins of this book, in order for it to not feel like a retread of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Basically, Go Set a Watchman was written first, her publisher said that they liked the moments best when Jean Louise is reflecting on her childhood, so they asked her to write a new story focusing on that element. Many of Jean Louise Finch's childhood memories are repeats from To Kill a Mockingbird. If you understand why this is, hopefully it won't seem bothersome. Think of it as a companion piece rather than a sequel.

I feel like To Kill a Mockingbird is actually the more grownup of the two stories. To me, the narration of TKAMB feels like a much older woman reflecting on the significant events of her childhood. In contrast, Go Set a Watchman is told from the perspective of Jean Louise Finch as a 26 year old woman. She is still very young, and lacking some maturity that seems present in TKAMB. This doesn't make Go Set a Watchman less worthwhile of a story, it just feels different, and provides insights from a different stage of life.

Go Set a Watchman prominently features issues relating to the civil rights movement. I feel like if it had been published in the 1950's when it was first written, it would have been viewed as extremely controversial, offensive, and probably would have been poorly received.
Jean Louise Finch, and other characters, strongly defend the rights of Negroes, and denounce the traditions of southern white society.
With it being published today, we have the benefit of looking back on these events with the clarity of time.

This perspective is similar to TKAMB which dealt with racial tension in the early 1930's, before the civil rights movement. TKAMB denounced racial prejudice and encouraged love and kindness towards all people; a message which was much needed in the 1960's when it was published, but far enough removed from the time period, that it could be well received.

The really interesting thing though is that the setting of civil rights in GSAW strongly mirrors the issues of civil liberties we are facing today. I don't think the publication could have come at a more appropriate time.
Today, we are dealing with the issues associated with integrating into our society a minority group that has only recently been legally validated. This causes a lot of social friction as we go through the necessary growing pains. GSAW is almost prophetic in its treatment of these issues. If I didn't know better, I would think it had only just been written. It is absolutely brilliant!

I think it is very interesting to see the radically different views expressed by Jean Louise Finch, and her father, Atticus. However, these differences do create some conflict between the two, which may be unsettling for some.
Jean Louise is amazingly free from any kind of prejudice. In one chapter it says that she was born color blind.
As such, she doesn't understand prejudice, nor does she understand the transitional time needed as people become comfortable with expanded civil rights.

In contrast, Atticus has been dealing with these issues for a long time, and understands the impact these changes will have on their communities. He is willing to face the hard issues and take the necessary steps towards change, in spite of the personal repercussions.
In TKAMB, his community lashed out at him. In GSAW, it is his daughter.

There is a particular paragraph in GSAW which seems to have many people upset. You'll know it when you read it.
Basically Atticus is explaining to Jean Louise why civil rights must come gradually. He explains that in many communities, the black population outnumbers the white population. He explains that if black people suddenly had equal voting rights, they would begin electing black officials to all kind of positions. The problem is that for the most part, these people had not yet achieved the level of education, or professional experience, that would qualify them for these positions.
He is trying to get her to see that having unqualified people in office, would be damaging to these communities, and would be harmful to the cause of civil rights.

Many people are claiming that in GSAW, Atticus has suddenly become a racist. I think that these people are idiots that are taking this section of dialog out of context, and have failed to understand what he is actually talking about.
He isn't opposed to black people receiving full civil rights, in fact, he is trying to help that cause along. He just thinks that it needs to come progressively. He knows that if black people suddenly have vast amounts of political power without the necessary experience, it would be disastrous for everyone. He is simply trying to facilitate the ideal conditions for giving them their full civil rights.

Atticus is still the wonderful, kind man he always was, fighting for people's rights.
Jean Louise is her father's daughter, and just as strong-willed as ever. As a budding young adult, she has developed some very strong political opinions, but she is still quite young, and her views are very polarized. She is so focused on the injustice she sees before her, that she fails to see the big picture the way Atticus does.
In one of the later chapters, her uncle says that "she had not made the journey through time that makes all things bearable."
I found her attitude to be strikingly similar to that of many politically charged young people today. The parallels to our time continue further when she has a lengthy conversation with her uncle about bigotry. Her uncle spins the argument around to point out that in this case, because she is totally unyielding in her view, and unable to see the views held my others, she has become the bigot. It reminds me an awful lot of this political cartoon I saw recently.

I'll admit, the last third of the book caught me off guard, and was not nearly as pleasant as the earlier parts. I still liked it though, because it was powerful, and incredibly relevant.

To wrap things up, I am very impressed with Go Set a Watchman. I don't think it will become the classic that To Kill a Mockingbird is, but it is a worthy companion piece.



Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Mystery of the Soothing Tingles Explained

Throughout my life, for as long as I can remember, I have occasionally felt something that I couldn't really explain.

It was a warm and tingly sensation all over my head, neck, and shoulders. Often, it would feel like sinking; like I was slipping deep into myself. It was as if the things I was seeing were actually very far away, like I was slightly disconnected from my senses.

It wasn't a lack of control, I could snap out of it and regain my focus at any time...but it was pleasant, and I would usually enjoy it while it lasted.

It seemed to happen once every few months, mostly when I would be watching episodes of Bob Ross, or televised golf, or craft shows.  Sometimes even while getting a haircut, particularly when getting my neck shaved. It just seemed to happen randomly when I was feeling very relaxed, or listening to a soothing voice on TV, and it only lasted for a few minutes.

I tried to explain it to someone once, but they didn't seem to understand what I was talking about, so I never really talked about it after that. I just thought it was a weirdly random sensation.

All this changed a few days ago when I discovered an article which explained my experiences. Turns out, it is called ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response.

Awareness of this sensation is relatively new, but it is the focus of a lot of new YouTube videos that try to illicit these responses on queue.

I am absolutely fascinated by this!

I've watched a few ASMR videos online, and I have to admit that they are really weird.

So far I haven't found any videos that have produced an effect with the same intensity that I am used to, but they are still quite relaxing. I probably need to figure out what my particular triggers are, and try watching videos that focus on those.

I know this is all very strange, but I'm relieved that I finally know what it is.

I'm actually really excited to be able to explore the different avenues of ASMR to see what I respond to.  I think we could all do with a little more relaxation in life, and at the very least, it is always interesting to learn something new about yourself.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Damaged

I've been thinking a lot about dating recently.

Actually, I think a lot about dating most of the time.

I've had a question on my mind for some time now.

In fact, it seems to come up again and again...and again.

How much rejection can a person take before it damages them?

When I say "damage" I don't mean the occasional sadness that goes away in time, or the kind of hurt that subsides when you have a positive experience. I mean real, permanant, damage. I'm talking about losing little pieces of yourself bit by bit.

Whenever someone turns you down, you try not to, but you always think of reasons why they might have rejected you. After a while, all you see is a person who deserves to be rejected.

After so long, you start to anticipate the rejection, so even when someone accepts a date invite, you are constantly expecting to get that awkward look or feeling that tells you there won't be another.

All of this is a very destructive cycle, and I don't know what to do about it. All I know is that I feel damaged.