Category Archives: Movies

Any movie I’ve seen or heard about that I want to talk about.

Friday Update #6: The Branding Betrayal and Other Briefs

I haven’t posted to the Friday Updates in a couple of weeks, mainly because I haven’t had much to say since my last post, but also because I’ve had other commitments and time got away from me. More on that later.

In Support of Branding

I wanted to kick off this post with a slight nitpick. As some of you may know (if you know me personally), I’m a fan of movies. I enjoy a good movie as much if not more than a good book. I enjoy them for the stories, sure, but I especially enjoy them for the experience they provide. And I’m especially a fan of movie franchises, as I can continue to reenter the worlds of my favorite characters and experience something new while hanging on the edge of my seat to the exploits of people old (but not necessarily those of old people, except for maybe Clint Eastwood, and only if he does another Dirty Harry, which I guess would be hard to watch nowadays given that he’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—more on that later).

However, one of the things I depend on in my movie experiences is continuity, and that’s especially true of those that actually continue into sequels and more sequels. Franchises like James Bond can get away with actor changes because there are so many of them that eventually the actors will get too old to play the part, like Sean Connery, who’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—still, more on that later). The only thing we really must have in a James Bond movie consistently is the tracking gun barrel sequence at the start of each movie, and the opening credits sequence with the dramatic song and the nearly naked women superimposing the movie’s weapon of choice. There are story points that must be addressed, too, but those are related more to the genre than to the franchise itself. At any rate, James Bond has a specific brand we expect each film to adopt, and those are the things we expect—oh, and of course the James Bond theme song by Monty Norman. Other movie franchises like Mission: Impossible also have an expected brand, with the lit fuse marching toward an explosion and the classic theme by Lalo Schifrin (I almost mixed the two composers up—I’ve watched these franchises so many times that they sometimes run together on details like that). It’s also well-known for its anti-brand of style by changing directors and storylines so much that each movie barely resembles the one before it, and really only has Tom Cruise and the opening fuse to bind all five together. Weirdly, this works out great for that series.

If you’re paying attention, then you’ve noticed that I’ve addressed two of the top three blockbuster spy movie franchises currently running. The third franchise, the Bourne series, also has a brand, with each film taking the exact title from the book that corresponds with its entry number (The Bourne Identity is the name of the first book and movie, The Bourne Supremacy the second, and so on through The Bourne Legacy, which changes the lead character but stays firmly in the established cinematic universe), and this keeps them all in the same family.

Or, at least this is true of the first four films.

Now, I just saw the latest Bourne film, Jason Bourne, on Wednesday, and even though I enjoyed it, there are a few things about it that annoyed me. And it all has to do with its branding.

Movies like this remind me why branding in a series is so important. On the outside, novels in a series establish brands by having similar covers and similar fonts from one installment to the next. Their internal content can also establish brands, with recurring themes and recurring popular characters populating them. But they also form brands by the titles they use. Novels do this. Movies do this. Even the names of television episodes (something many audiences will never even see) do this. The show Scrubs, for example, would title each episode as “My [Something].” That puts every episode into a family. My favorite show, Community, would title each episode after a fake and ridiculous course title (“Advanced Complaining,” for example, was never a Community title, but it could’ve been because each episode was titled something like that). I think branding among titles is a good idea, but keeping a continuity among titles to establish that brand is vital if the series has three or more installments and the first two are of the same style.

Before I saw Jason Bourne, I watched the Honest Trailer for the original Bourne film trilogy, and I think it does a fine job highlighting many of the trilogy’s repeat items, enough for me to recognize them when I see them in new installments. I must also say that plenty of elements within the newest movie match those of the older films (the use of the word asset, for example) quite faithfully. And I was pleased to see that the end title song, “Extreme Ways” by Moby, makes its fifth appearance in the series, over the usual hi-tech background graphic where the credits flash, with its expected differences in style from its previous incarnations. And, of course, the story is basically the same as it is in the first four movies. Even though it brings nothing new, it’s still most everything I expect from a Bourne film. Well, almost everything.

Going back to the title, there are two expectations that people like me will have whenever a new entry into the series is released: 1. The title will be The Bourne [Something]. This is how it’s lain out in the previous four films. It’s how the fifth movie should’ve been presented. It’s what we expect when we set up our DVDs and Blu-rays beside each other on the franchises shelf. 2. The title should coincide with the book that matches its installment number. In this case, the fifth book is called The Bourne Betrayal, so the movie should’ve been called The Bourne Betrayal. Even its IMDB entry mentions this inconsistency in the trivia section. What’s worse is that the movie’s plot actually supports this title.

So why change the name? I don’t know. I suspect that the studio dipped its hand where it shouldn’t have, as it often does, and decided that it would make more money or be more appealing to feature the main character’s name instead of what audiences actually expect. I mean, it worked for Jack Reacher, right?

Here’s the thing. The movie is the same regardless of what title it’s given. My complaint is about as OCD and nit-picky as OCD and nit-picky get. But I also think this inconsistency is as annoying as snot. Just give it the expected title. As long as it has the name Bourne in the title, we’ll know it belongs to that franchise. The title change has single-handedly taken a franchise I love and made it into something I love a little less. It just feels like a detached entry now. Being that it takes place 12 years after the previous three just isolates it even more.

Now, if the next Bourne movie is called Jason Bourne 6, and not The Bourne Sanction (the sixth book’s title, and the sixth title to maintain consistency), then I’ll have to stop caring what decisions the studio makes for this franchise. Seeing as how they aren’t changing the formula a lick from movie to movie, either, I’m guessing the series has had its heyday and is ready to take another long nap. I don’t know. Makes me sad, though. This really was one of my favorites for the longest time.

For those of you who write series books or make series movies, please stick to your established brands. Changing them by even the slightest angles derails the momentum you’ve created. Don’t do it. Change the stories instead. That’s what we care about being new.

Other Non-Writing Things

So, I missed last week’s post because I was distracted. We had my grandmother’s memorial the following day, and I was mentally checked out from doing anything creative or informative in the hours leading up to it. I was also exhausted from two straight days of walking several miles on the soggy beach during the hottest time of the day, so I ended up sleeping through most of it. So, sorry if you were expecting news. But I really didn’t have any.

The week before, I was supporting a friend at a cocktail party on the 29th floor of a beachfront condo about an hour from where I live. I was tired when I got home. Plus, I didn’t have any news. I did have fun though. I don’t get invited to cocktail parties like that too often.

Smashwords Sale

For those of you who might’ve been interested in buying my e-books during the Smashwords sale, the sale is over, and everything is back to full price. But, you can still find coupons for discounts and freebies in the Promotions sections in the header, so don’t worry about it. Thanks to those of you who bought something, or will buy something.

(I just noticed that most of the existing coupons are expired or soon to expire. I’ll generate a new batch at some point soon. Keep checking back.)

And that’s it for this week. I’ve spent the last few days working on my computer game, Entrepreneur: The Beginning, and I’ve been reading a lot on the Story Grid website, catching up my knowledge on how to edit, so I haven’t been writing much lately. I will soon, though. Don’t worry. I did write a poem called “My Fading Silence” a couple of nights ago, however. You can read it in my previous post. I don’t write poetry often, so it’s a rare treat.

Oh, and I’ve officially cancelled my preorders for Teenage American Dream, Sweat of the Nomad, and Zipwood Studios until further notice. I will be reinstating them at some point, but not before I get an email list together or something substantial toward their development. I also need to figure out if I want to release their original short story versions under their existing titles and their novel versions under new titles. Check back here often for new information.

Advertisements

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 14, 2015

Disclaimer: I am posting this review four days before the movie comes out. So, I have not seen it. This is fake. It’s for the purpose of parody. Please do not take this review seriously. If you’re looking for a real review, check back in four days…on someone else’s blog. This one will likely spoil moments that aren’t actually in the movie. If this offends you, then you’re probably camping out in line as we speak, reading this through your Stormtrooper helmet as you eat marshmallows in your tent.

 Movie: Star Wars 7

Release Date: Friday

Runtime: I don’t know

Review: Okay, so there’s a lot of hype going into George Lucas’s abandoned child, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and let me tell you, as a fanboy, it is so worth it. It’s got stars, and it’s got wars, and it’s got lots of fighting in space, and it’s just awesome. J.J. Abrams really got this one right. It’s got Spock fighting Captain Kirk, and Yoda drinking a soda even though he’s a ghost (spoiler alert!), and Chewbacca, let’s just say, is so hairy. It’s amazing how much detail they put into these characters.

I know what you’re thinking. What about the prequels? No, they aren’t awesome. Episode III is kinda okay. But it doesn’t have enough Jar Jar. You really can’t have too much Jar Jar. Everyone who thinks Jar Jar ruins the movie ruins movies. If I can’t have my Jar Jar, then I don’t want my Star Wars.

The Force Awakens does not have Jar Jar, and it’s better for it. What it has instead is a talking Monkey named Hans. Spoiler Alert! The monkey is played by none other than Harrison Ford. They call him Hans YOLO! and he has a sweet ride. It goes so fast. In one scene, he beats Vin Diesel and the Rock to the finish line. It’s amazing. Really, you should see this movie.

Now, I can’t talk about this movie without discussing everyone’s acting abilities, but I must say, I see an Oscar in R2D2’s future. He’s really got the whole droid thing down. Come on, Academy. Stop ignoring trash cans on roller skates! It’s bad enough you’ve ignored Jim Carrey for The Truman Show and Man on the Moon. Don’t snub the R2!

So, what’s my final verdict? Star Wars: The Force Awakens is awesome! How do I know? Because I’ve seen the trailers for it, twice! Five stars (and three wars)!

The new Star Wars opens this Friday. But you already knew that because you’re yelling at me for writing this crap.

B+

Lethal Hairdo

October 23, 2015:

Continuing with a Back to the Future theme, in a loose kind of way now, it’s time we turn to one of the greatest action movies to come out of the 1980’s, Lethal Weapon, and more importantly, to its greatest legacy left on pop culture, the mullet.

Ah, yes, the mullet, the greatest hairstyle to hit a generation since the Moe Howard bowl cut, which I guess was just a revision to the old Caesar cut, which was likely the revision to an alpaca’s hair–I’m no hair historian, so I don’t know. From the mullet we have learned a great many thing:

  • Bad guys tremble at the sight of a mullet.
  • Ladies melt at the sight of a mullet.
  • Mel Gibson was at his best in a mullet.
  • The Lethal Weapon series died with the movie that did not give us a mullet.
  • Bonus Fact: George Clooney and John Stamos gained fame under a mullet. (Not really Lethal Weapon related, but still an accurate observation born from the eighties.)

As you can see, the mullet was important to our culture and to the longevity of Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson, and maybe the eighties?

Let us never forget the power it had on 1980’s cinema and the stars that had graced our screens.

Long live the mullet!

Want more mullet drama? Come back at 9:00 to read about the epic battle between man and his hair, told in poetry.

The Pros and Cons of Riding a Hoverboard

October 22, 2015

“Back to the Future” Day Week continues with an essay about the one thing we were all looking forward to having in 2015, but never got, thanks to ambitious predictions matched with poor sensibilities that led to our shattered hopes and unshattered bones.

Marty McFly was an expert skateboarder in his day. He could “skitch” (skate-hitch) like the best of them. But the one thing that kept him grounded in 1985 was the set of wheels under his board. By the time he got to 2015, he was stuck with these crazy pink magnetic boards that hovered off the ground. They still rode the same, at least for him, but they posed new thrills and dangers for him.

Robert Zemeckis, the director of Back to the Future, says in an old video that hoverboards “have been around for years, but…” and then talks about parent groups, toy companies, and stuff you can hear about in the Honest Trailer for Back to the Future, which was just released yesterday. Apparently, they haven’t “been around for years,” and perhaps haven’t actually been around at all, but it might be interesting to speculate what the world could be like if we did have hoverboards. So, here are the pros and cons of moving around on your own hoverboard.

Pros:

  • You can be cooler than those losers who ride around on “wheels.”
  • Hoverboards are flatter, and thus easier to stuff in a locker or backpack than a traditional skateboard.
  • They still function well as a food tray.
  • If you need to repel a magnet, just aim your hoverboard’s underside at it.
  • Futuristic designs look more relevant on a hoverboard than a traditional skateboard.
  • You can “skitch” easier on the back of flying car.*
  • You can hop curbs a bit easier.

Cons:

  • A lack of friction equals more spectacular wipeouts (technically a pro for “Epic Fail” videos on Youtube).
  • Hoverboards use magnets in place of wheels and probably don’t work on most surfaces.
  • They’re made of thicker plastic, and are less reliable for using as a crowbar than the skinnier skateboards of the 1980s.
  • If you run into a wall, they can break free from your feet and never return (see “friction” con).
  • It’s still impossible to take a date out on a hoverboard.
  • Your dog will probably prove to be a better skater than you if you put him on and send him off.
  • Having a hoverboard means we can no longer say, “It’s 2015! Where’s my hoverboard?” which is just as important to pop culture as the hoverboard itself.

And there you have it. Can you think of any pros and cons to having your own hoverboard? If so, list them in the comments. Would be fun to develop an epic list for something we may never get.

Come back tomorrow. We’ll be discussing mullets.

*We still need flying cars.

Don’t You Forget About Me

October 22, 2015

Even though “Back to the Future” Day was yesterday, the celebration continues with a look back at my favorite movie of all time.

In the year 1985, the same year that Marty McFly first adventured with the DeLorean into another time, a movie was released that would change the landscape for take-charge teenagers forever. Well, two movies, if you count Back to the Future. That first movie, The Breakfast Club, changed my life.

But that’s vague, so let’s paint a backstory here.

In February 1985, the month that The Breakfast Club was released, I was still just a kid, not even in the double-digits yet. High school was still many years away. And, most importantly, it was an R-rated movie, and my parents were too responsible to let me, their young child, see something with such language at the time of its release. So, I didn’t see it in 1985. Or, really, any time particularly close to 1985.

In kid’s terms, “particularly close” might mean a few weeks, or at the most, a few months. In kid’s terms, two years is a lifetime, and I’m pretty sure it had taken me a lifetime to finally get the opportunity to see it. But sure enough, sometime in the mid-late ’80s, a local independent station, which later became a FOX affiliate, started airing the edited-for-television version (Bender’s spirited curse becomes a spirited support for a university when “F**k you!” becomes “Fam U!” for example), and now, finally, I got a chance to see it.

I was blown away. And I don’t know why, exactly. As a nine- or ten-year-old, I had no reason to find power in the story of five teenagers who were way older than me and went through things I was still years off from experiencing myself. But I did. Maybe I was moved with anticipation. Maybe I thought all high schools were like Shermer High, and maybe I thought all teenagers were like the archetypes presented in the movie. Realistically, I was grabbed hard by the throat by the awesome soundtrack–I mean, that opening on black title cards and a montage of static empty high school scenes, so simple yet so thematic. But at my core, I think I was moved more by the dynamics of these people, the friction between styles, ideologies, and backgrounds, even with the one common thing they all share is universal: our parents help shape who we are. For a ten-year-old, that’s quite a lesson to learn.

On the one hand, I think it did probably have some bearing into helping me understand the person I’ve become, based on the instruction my parents had offered me. Both had vastly different levels of style, personality, and responsibility when it came to raising me. Mom was always very economical, responsible, intent to raise me to respect others, follow the rules, and so on. Dad was basically carefree and pretty blasé about most things, and more or less the dead opposite of my mom. In some sense, they were like a two-person Breakfast Club, two completely different archetypes trying to reach the same goal: not to accidentally wreck my life or kill me. I’m still alive and functional, so…I guess they succeeded.

But that’s not all I got out of the movie.

The characters in The Breakfast Club have a three-dimensional arc we can all learn from, even though the substance in their arcs may seem shallow at times–Ally Sheedy’s character, for example, grows from being a weirdo to being a pretty weirdo. But they still exhibit change in the nine hours they’re forced to sit together in a high school library. For most of us, change takes longer, but the fact that we can change is well-documented in this brilliant John Hughes movie.

And speaking of John Hughes, this is the movie that made me a fan of his work.

I’ve probably seen this movie 40 times or more by now. I don’t recall if I had done this on my first viewing, but at some point I had recorded a VHS copy of the edited-for-television version, watched it at least ten times in the three or four years following, bought the soundtrack on cassette, noticed a theme I hadn’t heard in the movie, rented the real movie (on VHS) when I was finally a teenager, was surprised to see that the edited-for-television version had cut a few scenes (including the joint sequence, which featured the theme in the soundtrack I hadn’t heard in the movie previously), eventually bought it on VHS when I was old enough to carry a job, bought it on DVD years after that (as part of a triple pack with Sixteen Candles and Fast Times at Ridgemont High), and I even had the opportunity to see it in theaters last year when Cinemark put The Breakfast Club in its Classics Series lineup for that season. And let me tell you, it’s amazing what we miss on the small screen that’s so much more defined on the big screen. I feel like seeing it in the theater brought me full circle. And even if I never watch it again, I feel as though I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth, and life’s worth, out of it.

I could keep going, but that’s the point. There’s so much to get out of this 97-minute movie that its impossible to cover it all in a single blog and still keep it short. So, rather than dive into character studies, cinematic tricks, relevant themes, and so on, I’d rather open this topic up for discussion.

Have you seen The Breakfast Club? What was your favorite part? I still get a kick out of Allison throwing the salami slice at the statue and watching it stick to the amorphous head. Just funny stuff.

Thanks for joining me on this nostalgia trip. Come back in an hour for my essay about hoverboards.

Celebrating Back to the Future Day

October 21, 2015

So, we finally caught up to Marty McFly’s fictional future. Hurray! That means we get to complain about all of the cool things we were promised but never given. It also means that, tomorrow, we will be officially hurtling into the unknown true future, a place of possibility but great uncertainty, a place where technology could overrun humanity or humanity could overrun technology, a place where Marty McFly is no longer our compass but a passenger on the DeLorean ride to the…future, but a place that might, just might, have hoverboards and self-lacing Nikes. Just might.

That’s all assuming Marty McFly doesn’t hang around until the following day–it’s been so long since I’ve seen Back to the Future, Part 2.

At any rate, I wanted to join the bandwagon of celebrating our merging of real life with movie fiction by calling up some pop culture history this week. So, over the course of the next few days, I want to present new reviews, essays, and other fun things to loosely tie into Back to the Future Day and all that it implies.

Come back tonight, starting at 8pm EST, for the official launch of Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm‘s Back to the Future Day celebration. I’m not offering anything revolutionary here, but I am offering some fun blasts from the past. So, check back often this week, as I’m planning to post something new and loosely relevant each night, and in some cases, like tonight, multiple relevant things.

Here’s the tentative calendar:

Tonight at 8pm: A Goodreads review of my favorite book of all time.

Tonight at 9pm: A Goodreads review of my second favorite book of all time.

Tomorrow at 8pm: A review of my favorite movie of all time (from the year of the first Back to the Future).

Tomorrow at 9pm: An essay about hoverboards.

Friday at 8pm: A celebration of the 80’s best and most infamous hairstyle.

Friday at 9pm: A continuation of the infamous hair celebration, in the form of my infamous poetry.

Saturday and/or Sunday (time uncertain): TBA. Check back here for an update.

Hope you come back to see what’s cookin’.

Relational Time Bomb

Previously unfinished and unpublished. Drafting began on:

August 15, 2013:

When I was 18, I had the privilege of going with a couple of friends to see Forrest Gump at the now-and-forever-lost Cross County 8 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Perhaps it was the thrill of knowing the three of us could see Dumb and Dumber the night before it opened, for free, that made the experience memorable. But I disagree. Well, somewhat. What matters is that the experience was memorable, as the pieces I’ve taken from it still resonate with me today.

Forrest Gump, in a word, had changed my life, maybe for the worse. I had no idea it was capable of doing something so traumatic. Yet, therein lies the power of fiction, and, to a lesser degree, cinema. (You notice how cinema rhymes with enema? Yeah, I don’t suppose that’s coincidence.) Here I am watching Forrest run, and living a life that he doesn’t quite appreciate because he’s just living life as it’s given, thinking, “Why is that Jenny so blind or stupid?” yet, I’m enthralled. Forrest’s many adventures through history are enough to challenge anyone’s viewpoint on what they know. The changes to his own life force us to look inward and ask ourselves if we understand what’s happening. That’s actually kinda powerful, especially for something that came out of Hollywood. And this is the effect it had on me then, and it’s the effect that it has on me today. It isn’t just a movie to me; it’s a calling to rethink how I view my own life.

I don’t expect to play Championship Ping-Pong during a high-profile war any time soon, nor do I expect to inform our latest president that I have to pee, and I definitely have no plans to run nonstop from Alabama to the Pacific Coast, to the Atlantic, back to the Pacific, and so on while growing the greatest homeless beard ever. But I do expect to appreciate the little things more. Daily. I expect to look at life through simple eyes in the hope of leaving everything I care about uncorrupted in my mind. It doesn’t matter that my friend (Bubba) could lose his life for a hopeless cause, or my mentor (Lieutenant Dan) could lose his ability to stand from standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the love of my life (Jenny) could forsake my love to pursue cheap relationships and end up dying from it, or my family member (Momma) could simply drift forever into sleep because she’s getting too old or sick to stay awake. What matters is that I make the most of these relationships now, today, because all of them are destined to change or expire. I don’t want to watch them fall apart over circumstances I cannot control.

But they will fall apart. Eventually. The fact is I can’t stop my mom from getting older. The fact is my mentors are not all-powerful and can fall at any moment. The fact is my friends can get sucked into situations that, whether necessary or pointless, could pull them away from me. The fact is the love of my life could ignore my heart for so long that I can never rescue her. I may try to hold onto these relationships for as long as possible, but I can’t. Life is always happening. Life is always trying to kill it. Forrest Gump reminded me of that, even if it did so in a hauntingly beautiful way.

Forrest Gump also changed my thinking about the kind of relationships I wanted, giving me revelations that I still carry with me today, for better or for worse.

In the case of Lieutenant Dan, it made me grateful that I no longer have to watch a mentor spiral down toward the bottom of a rock, as he desperately and hopelessly claws for the top. Redemption is still possible, if he wants it, and that gives me hope. Not everyone I look up to wants to commit to the work necessary to climb out of that hole, unfortunately. My dad, my first mentor, had fallen in his hole and didn’t have the steely nerves to climb out, and he died before he could reach the top again. But I appreciated knowing that some still could. Today, I’m grateful that none of my mentors are spiraling down into dank pits where rocks are fat at the bottom. Redemption is awesome, but not needing it is even better.

In the case of Bubba, it made me want to include my friends into more aspects of my life. I still think it’s awesome that Bubba wants Forrest to help him run a shrimp company, and even more so that he offers him this proposition the day he first meets him on the bus. I don’t necessarily feel compelled to start a business with any of my friends, but it does encourage me to talk to them about any future-seeking path I’m considering. Before Forrest Gump, I was content with hanging out with them and talking about God, girls, school, and whatever else was important to me, but never really thought to include them in my journey through life, growth, and self-improvement. Talking about things really was enough. Thanks to Bubba, I saw a deeper value in what friendships are supposed to be and how they play into my life’s journey.

In the case of Momma, it made me appreciate that I still have a mom. I was able to see more clearly how a mother lays everything on the line to make sure her kids are taken care of. It made me more appreciative of the sacrifices she had to make over the years just to make sure I could survive. It made me more wary of the fact that, just like my days, her days are numbered and that I have to cherish each one as it’s given. It reminded me that I won’t have the luxury of calling out to her forever, so I have to be thankful for every moment that I still can.

In the case of Jenny, well, let’s just say that before Forrest Gump, I was like any other guy, wanting an instant relationship, and happy to find it in anyone who was willing to show an interest in me (that I was interested in, too). After Forrest Gump, I understood the value of building a friendship first, letting love grow from that friendship, and breathing that sigh of relief when the love is finally reciprocated. It also showed me what real love for another human being looks like. Forrest would not leave Jenny’s side, no matter what tricks she pulled, or what excuses she made for not being with him. He loved her and stuck with her until the day she died, and nothing was gonna compromise that. No one can tell me love looks like something else. I realized that that was what I wanted, a love built from friendship, that’s fired through trial, and perfected in time. The night I went home after seeing it in the theater, I asked God to send me a Jenny. Its effect on me was that profound.

All of that from a two-and-a-half-hour movie.

I’m not stupid, even if stupid is as stupid does (see what I did there?). Even if I have these relationships of quality, life has a way for pulling them loose, for taking them away from me. Those days are coming. Any excuse for not investing in a friendship, a love relationship, a partnership, a mentorship, or a family relationship is uncalled for because the opportunity to change our minds is soon to disappear. I’m not the kind of person to let go of people easily, and I’m not the kind of person who forsakes growth if growth is possible. Granted, I will let go if they want me to. And I’ll forfeit growth if they don’t want to put the effort in with me. But I don’t volunteer it. Time and circumstance will do that job for me.

And that’s all I have to say about that. (Stop groaning; you knew it was coming.)

That Kid Who Drives a Yugo

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

April 1, 2009:

It’s hard to say how wrong Hollywood gets life. I mean, obviously, some things aren’t likely to happen, things like Monsters attacking Aliens, or Vin Diesel outrunning a train. But what of the life stories? Stories that unfold when Harry meets Sally? Those things that could, feasibly, actually, possibly happen?

I watched that movie Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist this morning. And it got me thinking, How much of my life did I waste?

I suppose I should elaborate on this question. But first it’s important to know what the movie’s about.

Imagine you’re a member of an indie rock band in the Tri-State area. You’re a high school kid, your best friends are all gay, and the girl you were in love with dumped you. You might think your life is normal, or you might think you’re going through an identity crisis. You’re not sure where you fall. You appease your angst through your favorite hobby, through building mix CDs for the girl who no longer wants you, for the girl who no longer takes your calls, for the girl you never leave messages for anymore. But it’s not enough. You’re depressed. And this goes on for a month.

Then your gay band mates come to your doorstep with great news. Your favorite indie band of all time, a band notorious for staying deep underground, is rumored to be in New York that night. It’s a message that does just enough to add some normalcy, nay, joy to your life. You decide to go with them.

Now, your car sucks. I mean, it’s terrible. If it manages to even coast off your driveway, you run the risk of never coming back. It’s, unfortunately for you, a Yugo. But it’s faithful. It understands your patience. It understands that you’re a high school kid who can’t afford anything better. It takes care of you, getting you into New York and to the club where your band is performing. It tells you, “I’m gonna make sure you enjoy your evening. I will not screw you over.” In their own special way, your gay band mates tell you the same thing.

So, I think I’ve given you a fair picture of how this movie starts, and more importantly, how Nick (played by Michael Cera) begins his road to recovery. He’s a nice guy who fell for the wrong girl. We’ve all been there. He deals with it, even though it’s hard. Even though the girl he loved shows up at his performance with another guy in tow. No one ever said infatuation played nice.

But good news for Nick: Hollywood intervenes. Norah also goes to the show that night. And he doesn’t know her, and she doesn’t know him, but she does know his ex, and she does know his mix CDs, and she does know that the guy playing rhythm guitar for that band called “The Jerk Offs” is candy for her eye. And in some odd twist of fate, in some desperate effort to defend herself in the eyes of her friend—the girl that Nick used to love—she meets Nick, puts on a show to ward off her friend’s accusations using Nick’s mouth, and realizes just a little too late that she just lip-attacked her friend’s ex.

And Nick, of course, doesn’t know what to do, but he’s pretty sure he liked what just happened, if not incredibly confused by it.

So he ends up driving Norah around town looking for this elusive band called “Where’s Fluffy,” because, you know, they develop a connection.

Okay, so that’s the summation of the movie. Why bring it up?

Well, as I said in the beginning, it got me to question if I ever really lived.

I didn’t do much as a teenager. I had indie rock friends, sort of—well, they were band geeks who listened to a lot of indie rock. But I never really went anywhere with them. We went to Taco Bell once. That was about it.

I spent more time with my church friends in those days, playing video games, going to Taco Bell—yeah, that was the thing to do if you were tame and living in the mid-90s—but never did anything adventurous. A few guys went to some warehouses to play paintball at midnight every Saturday, though I never went with them. Sometimes in the summer we’d play beach volleyball. But there was no indie-rocking. There was no mission to find an elusive band through extensive detective work or side missions to find missing drunk friends. And there was certainly no matchmaking going on—at least not in a boy-meets-girl romantic kind of way. Looking back, it all seemed kind of sheltered.

Now, I don’t regret my youth. I do regret much about by twenties, but not about my teens. I lived life the way life was given. I did what I was told, refrained from strange indulgences, and avoided that party lifestyle. And I came out of it without any baggage or addiction. So, yeah, I don’t regret those choices.

At least, not entirely.

I think I do regret my lack of adventure. Not that there was much I could do about the travel or financial costs involved, but a part of me feels like the shelter damaged me for adulthood. Psychologically speaking, I think I grew timid toward risk, and even more so toward failure. I didn’t start riding rollercoasters until I was twenty-three (after I’d spent four months playing RollerCoaster Tycoon and loving it) because I thought they’d make me sick. I didn’t drink my first cocktail until I was twenty-eight because I spent my youth being paranoid over developing an alcoholism. To this day, I still haven’t thrown up after a rollercoaster, or gotten drunk off an alcoholic beverage, and I don’t regret trying either. In truth, I feel stronger for having taken the risk.

On Halloween night 2003, I experienced a taste of life that I never really knew for myself, but did know in movies. It was a life I saw mimicked in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It was a night where I hung out with some friends, cramming for stools in a smoky second-floor bar, listening to indie rocker friends performing under the dim lights penetrating what little there was of the brick-walled cave. It was a night that ended with one friend getting a tongue pierced, another getting a tattoo, and some random stranger popping out of a costumed crowd of thousands in downtown Orlando, ripping off his clothes and dancing like the Party Boy from Jackass, and it made me think, this is one unusual evening.

And that’s when it hit me. For most people, it was just another night on the town. For me, it was surreal.

For all the adventure I thought I had in life, I realized I had nothing to connect me with anyone else. And it bothered me.

In the end, I still don’t go out much. I try to do it more often than I used to. But nowadays I can’t help feeling that it’s too little too late. I still don’t have a Norah in my life (and that’s too bad, because Norah’s a cool chick). I’ve never spent an entire night hunting for an elusive band (though, in fairness, that was never a desire of mine to begin with). And I’ve only had to deal with a drunk girl once or twice.

No doubt, my life’s been pretty safe. But it’s also been pretty boring.

I hope there’s still room to fix that before I’m too old to care. Until then, it gives me something to think about.

So, what have I learned from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist?

1. I need some gay friends, as they seem to do a better job attracting women.

2. I’m lucky to have a Honda.

3. Just because I’m depressed one day doesn’t mean the night has to end on a bad note.

4. Hollywood still gets the high school scene wrong.

5. Life goes nowhere if I’m sitting around the house all day.

Anyway, I’m thinking of going out for some food now. Don’t know how adventurous it’ll be, but at least I’ll get some sunshine in the process.

Oh, and great movie.

Grendel’s Hot Mom

Originally posted to MySpace on:

November 22, 2007

Native speakers of the English language have a terrible problem: we’re stuck reading an epic poem in high school called Beowulf. Though the majority of us forget the story’s place in history as the English language’s first written epic (Old English to be exact), some of us at least remember the story itself. A hero named Beowulf sails to a kingdom to slay a monster called Grendel and all hell breaks loose. The monster has a mom, etc., etc., and those of us who are honest with ourselves can admit that we don’t understand the bleedin’ thing because Old English is nothing like Modern English, and that remembering its origin as the English language’s first written epic is the easy part.

Well, as the proud owner of a Bachelor’s in English, I should know the story of Beowulf like the back of my cracking hand (yes, winter is approaching, hence the seasonal need for Nivea). But I don’t. Or didn’t. I read the poem. Didn’t get it. Saw the Mud Show at the Renaissance Festival (twice). Kinda got it, but not really. Felt stupid, and yet, proud to be a Floridian. Then the movie came out. And I think it’s accurate sort of. I saw it a few hours ago. Now I get it; my degree is now justified. Now I can sleep.

Beowulf didn’t just slay a monster. He secured his future as the king of Denmark (or at least the king of that particular place in Denmark—the actual kingdom is still unclear, probably because the names are Nordic and I speak the Norse languages as well as I speak Old English). And with it, he secured the sins that came with the job. Namely, the illegitimate fathering of monsters.

Now, from a layman’s point of view, it seems the only way for a mortal man to father a monster (especially an illegitimate one) is for him to conceive a child with a female monster. Those of us men who tend to think visually will agree that such a thought is hideous. Thanks to the invention of modern advertising, many of us can’t even get past that unsightly blemish or twinge of obesity that strikes some of our waylaying objects of affection, much less a green, slimy, Medusa-looking thing. How the hell can Beowulf get past that?

Turns out, he’s not the first. The king before him (name escapes me—another one of those complicated Nordic names) had the same problem. It turns out that Grendel the monster (spoiler alert!!!) is actually the king’s illegitimate monster son (actually, I already ruined it in the second paragraph, so I guess the spoiler alert is ineffective). His own queen won’t give him a legitimate heir because she’s paying him back for sleeping with a green, slimy, Medusa-looking thing. And it’s stressing him out.

Poor legitimate-sonless king.

Of course, that still doesn’t solve our question. We still don’t know how either Beowulf or the king before him could sleep with this creature. The thought—it’s awful. Right?

Right?

Beowulf is a hero. He slays the monster with his bare hands. Naked, of course, with a bunch of acrobatic flips, but he still slays him nonetheless. It’s a disturbing sight to see from the sidelines, and yet impressive at the same time. If I tried doing acrobatic flips naked, I might hurt myself. Doing that, and ripping the arm off a hideous monster—that just takes heroism. And a couple things made of steel. Beowulf is a hero.

So, he slays the monster and is given the Golden Dragon Horn (which the king uses as a cup for drinking mead) as a reward. All is well…until Beowulf’s men are murdered in their sleep. Upon split-second investigation, he finds that the kingdom’s monster troubles aren’t over. Grendel’s mom is pissed off. Her son is, after all, now a corpse, thanks to Beowulf’s hand, and now Beowulf has to postpone his journey back to sea to deal with the problem.

Beowulf has to confront the monster, slay her and rid the land of her evil. Doing so would mean peace for the kingdom. Doing so would mean solidifying his place in folklore. It’s all about the song, after all.

He enters the cave, where he wades through the enchanted water. The monster’s tail slithers. Surely, if he doesn’t turn around, she’ll be on him, dripping puddles of slime from her teeth, clawing out his heart with her rusty talons (okay, rusty is overkill, but it sounds better than chipped nail polish). He must turn around. But he doesn’t. Instead, he dives into a grotto, where he finds a cache of treasure. The tail draws close.

A voice penetrates the darkness and at last he knows the monster is there. He doesn’t see her, but she’s there. His sword is drawn. At any moment the horrid beast will lunge at him from the florescent depths. He waits, a breath, his sword ready to plunge through her callous heart. And then she emerges—the beast, the hag, the…

Angelina Jolie???!!!

For a moment, Beowulf is stunned (as is the audience for seeing what is now ten minutes’ worth of naked people in a “PG-13” movie). This monster is no monster, but a woman who might very well be the most beautiful creature he ever gazed upon. He must kill her to rid the land of evil, but she has the upper hand—she’s a hot naked woman seducing him—the hand isn’t just upper, the whole deck is stacked. What is a man to do?

Well, he fathers an illegitimate monster, of course. And then he becomes king for “killing” Grendel’s mom. Then thirty years pass, the Golden Dragon Horn returns to the kingdom (a part of the story that I don’t feel like developing here; you’ll just have to see the movie), and Beowulf’s illegitimate dragon son starts terrorizing everyone. Then Beowulf returns to the cave to face Grendel’s not-dead-mom again, finds the dragon, etc., etc., and here we go once again.

Now, though I’m happy that I finally understand the story of Beowulf, I have to admit that something about it caught my attention. These kings were seduced by this beautiful monster, to the point of intimacy, because she looked like a woman (with animatronic hair). They were captured by the words of her lips and the curves of her hips, and they gave in. To this monster!!!

That’s odd in retrospect. Right?

Of course, maybe I’m crazy to think that all monsters look like Shelob (the giant spider from Lord of the Rings) or Elmo (the annoying red thing that giggles when kids tickle it). But a monster is still a monster, right? So why the hell sleep with it?

Call it lust if you want, but I think it’s something else. I think it’s human condition. The Bible says that man looks at the outward appearance while God looks at the heart. Well, obviously Beowulf was looking at outward appearance when this beast seduced him, because who in his right mind would sleep with a monster if the monster’s true appearance were present? A politician? Well, that might be a hidden message of the movie, but that’s not where we’re aiming. No, no one. So why let a monster that looks like Angelina Jolie have a privilege that only a woman should have? At the end of the day, as hot as she is, Grendel’s mom is still a monster. The exterior is merely a hologram. The interior looks like a golden lizard. And Beowulf slept with a scaly, slithery lizard. A little creepy if you ask me.

Anyway, Beowulf discussions aside, I started thinking about the nature of women again, trying to figure out what my current preferences are, if they’ve changed at all, or if I’m still as unyielding as ever. And I can still agree, after many years, that I’m still not interested in bad girls, materialistic girls, or deceitful girls (aka, the monsters). Yeah, there can be something sexy about them (the bad girls, not the materialistic or deceitful ones), I’ll say that much, but they can’t really offer anything worthwhile. At the end of the day, they may look good, but they can also destroy kingdoms and produce headaches. I’m pretty sure that’s something no man needs.

Oh well, that’s that. I gotta get up in a few hours, so I should probably go back to sleep. And I think I’m done with movies for the week.

That Old Rusty Formula

Originally posted to MySpace on:

June 5, 2007:

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about this new book and movie craze called The Secret. At first I thought it was a movie starring that kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun—and I really don’t know why I thought that, random brain activity I guess—but later came to find out that it was a lesson in forcing what we want through positive thinking. Interesting.

As New Agey as it may seem, and probably is, it makes a good point: positive thinking brings positive results. Fair enough. Obviously it speaks some truth, because the entire world is biting into it the way a starving man on a desert island might bite into a Big Mac. If it didn’t work, the masses would throw the book into the fire. Right?

Well, if it weren’t any surprise, the Christian community has picked up on some of its principles and applied its meaning to its own sense of faith. Admirable, I think, considering the speed at which we condemned rock music and Harry Potter for its blatant promotions of evil. Because of this idea of viewing the “Law of Attraction,” as it’s called, as a form of faith, I have to admit that the possibility of finding out more about it “attracted” me. After all, if it really does show me how to attract what I want—to essentially step up my faith a notch—then it must be a good thing. Right? Right?

A few weeks ago, my Wednesday night Bible study decided to spend a week studying it. So now, after all the hype surrounding it, I got to see what it was all about for myself. And with all the visual stunners, like that wave of some crazy force ring shooting out like a pulsar cannon from the thoughts of those who dream of big houses and sexy wives, I have to say I was impressed with the production. With all the positive thinking that obviously went into it, all I could think was that the geniuses who made this film were certainly tapping into the “Law of Attraction” when they told themselves they would be gazillionaires someday.

Jokes aside, I could understand why the Christian community jumped on board with this phenomenon. It encourages faith—I mean, it has to—the whole point of the Law of Attraction is to see yourself with the very thing you want, which to me requires a heck of a lot of faith. If a penniless nobody can say he wants to make $100,000, actually draw (in marker) the extra zeroes onto a one dollar bill so that he can see the hundred grand as reality, and then somehow sell his $.25 concept to a tabloid and call it “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” then obviously somewhere in that equation he had more than a mustard seed’s worth of faith, because we all know what became of that little $.25 idea. A hundred grand is merely chump change now.

For those who haven’t seen the video, though, I’m not gonna spoil it for you. The bottom line is that this methodology teaches us that whatever we set our minds on, that’s what becomes reality. To some degree, I can accept this. For those who really believe in their abilities, somehow they make it work. But there has to be a line.

When the video was over, I had one nagging problem: the idea of making reality of what we think about. In the video, it talks about how a man who focuses primarily on getting out of debt is still thinking about debt, and thus he’ll never get out of it (because the “universe”—New Agey term—thinks he wants the debt because he keeps thinking about it and yada yada yada). Again, I can sort of see where this might apply. But, at the same time, from a Christian standpoint, it has one fatal flaw: our relationship with God, namely.

Here’s the thing: the Christian community can accept this thing called the Law of Attraction, because it promotes faith. But where the Christian community is completely turning the deaf ear is that this form of faith rules out relationship. In other words, if I’m asking God to help me out of debt, then, according to the Law of Attraction, I am still thinking about my debt, and thus God will keep me in debt.

What?!!

The workaround, of course, comes back to positive thinking, as the creators of this video might say. “Don’t think about debt,” they say, “but think about prosperity. If you dwell on prosperity, then you’ll have prosperity.” Fine, if you say so. I’ll have prosperity.

But why should I have to say it like that?

If this Law of Attraction is a real thing that God can use to answer our prayers, then isn’t it still possible that God has complete control over how it works? If He doesn’t, then how are we supposed to be ourselves before Him if we’re too busy nitpicking over vocabulary, trying to manipulate Him into blessing us?

My understanding of the Bible, and thus, my understanding of my own existence is to have a relationship with my Heavenly Father. Shouldn’t that mean, then, that I have freedom to tell Him exactly how I feel, and trust that He’ll hear me for my heart and not for my AOL keywords? If He doesn’t hear me for what I bring before His throne, then what is the point of trusting Him with my heart?

So that’s the thing that left me unsettled as I dwelt on this theory—which could have some truth to it, as some people do make it work. But then, that brings us to another point.

First of all, I’m not going to continue this journal pretending that I know everything. I don’t. I know some things in biblical context, though there is still plenty more that I don’t have a clue about. My memory skills suck when it comes to verses and song lyrics (though I could probably still tell you the names, identities, and allegiances to every single character from the first season of the original Transformers—how sad is that?), so I’m not the grand authority of all things spiritual. Because of this, I tend to seek counsel in these matters when I turn up clueless. Sometimes I find it in Christian “rulebooks.” Lately, I’ve just been asking people that I trust to know the Spirit better than I do. After spending the last few weeks trying to figure out how the Law of Attraction coincides with God’s will, I finally asked a mentor.

Having said that, keep in mind that most everything to follow from this point on are not my own thoughts, but a redevelopment of the conversation that a friend of mine and I had about God, faith, and the direction that ministry is heading.

There’s a reason why I had this problem with the Law of Attraction as an absolute—as the video would describe it to me. It’s because it pigeonholes God’s authority in my life. It puts control into my own hands, and more or less disregards His personal will for my life. Maybe this thing does work, for some people, but does it mean it’s the right thing?

The Secret and the Christian church’s adoption of its principles as a form of faith subscribe to a key issue that controls western thought: it’s all about the marketing.

What?!!!

Never mind that God is sovereign, free to bless people His own way and in His own time—if He chooses to bless us at all. No, according to this new marketing trend, all Christians are automatically promised prosperity (remember Jeremiah 29:11—my favorite verse to be perpetually taken out of context?), and so the positive thinking trick guarantees us the desires of our hearts.

As long as we don’t think a single ill thought against it.

What?!!! That sounds a bit limiting for God, the author of the world, doesn’t it? Also gives a little too much power to the Devil, the Force, and Jedi Master Yoda, all of who, despite our fears, can’t actually read our minds. Only God has that kind of authority.

God is creative, am I right? Does He not know the desires of our hearts before we even ask? Does He not know of the best path in which to see His will fulfilled in our lives? Of course He does. So why does the Christian church throw heaps and heaps of formulas in His way?

Years ago a friend of mine told me that he would never again read another book about relationships. Why? They seemed to be pretty harmless, certainly informative, and probably the surest bet to finding “the one,” and having the best relationship possible with “the one.” So why stop reading them?

Because they’re formulaic? Because they take the adventure out of life? Because they limit God from establishing things His own way, should He choose to even make it happen? Hmm, the truth kinda takes the thunder out of “How To” books, doesn’t it?

Why are Christians disappointed when a church promises prosperity if they “get their heart right with God” just to wind up in debt, in bad relationships, or being falsely accused of murder? Didn’t God promise the desires of my heart—of prosperity—according to Jeremiah 29:11, the most out of context verse ever? I thought I was supposed to do this and that and then my dreams would come true. If only I had read my Bible more, my dreams would come true. If only I had tithed more, my dreams would come true.

If churches told us that only some of us would prosper, while the rest of us would fight the rest of our lives for the desires of our hearts just to die poor and alone with 28 cats, then would we be interested in going back? Western culture, says “hell no,” so squeaky clean Reverend Mafia Man (apparently they exist—yikes!!!) tells us that prosperity is eminent so that we keep coming back and filling the coffers. Marketing genius. Spiritual suicide.

Why does the starving Christian want to put more hope in The Secret than he does in the sovereign will of God? Marketing. Is God not good if He doesn’t fulfill the desires of man’s heart? Or is He just? Would the CEO of Starbucks love God if God told him, “All right, now it’s time to try something new; go spend the next ten years getting to know the common man while running the register at Burger King.” Or would he be fighting God on the matter, arguing about how such a move would affect his God-promised prosperity? If he argues, then why would he? Is he no longer content with the will of God? If the CEO of Starbucks didn’t rate his prosperity on the size of his limo, would he be content, then, with a rusted jalopy from 1923? Probably not. Marketing strikes again.

So why then do some people make the Law of Attraction work? If it puts a limit on God’s sovereignty, then why can some people still get what they want through positive thinking? Here’s a better question: why do the wicked prosper if prosperity is meant for “those with faith?” My theory on the wicked prospering had always been that this is the best they’ll have. For them to prosper now is like God having compassion on them in light of their destructive future. But the friend I talked to about this the other night had a better theory: prosperity, like everything else, is a gift bestowed among certain people. Just as a wicked man can paint a glorious portrait through the gift of creativity (as can a Christian with the same gift), so can a wicked man turn three dollars into a million if he has the gift of business (as can a Christian with the same gift). Not everyone will have the ability to do both (I, for example, have creativity, but my business sense is atrocious), so not everyone should expect to have both (or either, if that’s the case).

The bottom line is that Secret or no Secret, God is sovereign and He can do whatever He wants. If He wants to prosper us, then good for us. If He wants to let us die in captivity, then we should probably learn to like it. In the end, it’s unfair of us to limit our relationship with Him to certain boundaries so that the formulas of prosperous Christian living can endure. Isn’t it better to live each day as it is, continue to ask for the desires of our heart, be content with the answer He gives us, whether it’s what we want or not, and let Him flourish in His ways and in His story for our lives? I might get discouraged at times for seeing opportunities I’ve desired float away far beyond my reach, but then, how would I ever be content if I got every blasted thing I ever wanted? I’d just end up wanting more anyway.

Of course, if God wanted to be the Father who gives to His prodigal son, then that’s His business. It’s not my job to grumble it. It’s my job to love Him anyway and do what I can to follow the path He’s lit for me.

Anyway, these were just some issues that came up during this processing time. After spending many sessions of positive thinking toward the things I wanted in the past, just to have them rejected anyway, kinda tells me that the “Law of Attraction” is just a thing that some people can use, but ultimately doesn’t override the sovereign will of God. If we trust Him with His will, then that’s what we’ll see come to pass. Whether or not that means pleasure for us is irrelevant. Whether or not we become an army He can use, however, is relevant. Submitting to God and letting Him do as He wills is a mark of faith, I think, and one that lets God be who He is through us. Yes, we can still ask God for the desires of our hearts—the Bible makes that clear—but true faith, I believe, accepts the answer regardless of what it might be.

If anyone would like to add a remark to this, please do, as I’d like to build a discussion here.

And you’re welcome to send this wherever you want, if you feel like it. But you don’t have to; this isn’t a chain letter. I know that you still love Jesus, even if you delete this. No accusations, hidden agendas, or condemnations here. Be who you are.