Friday, April 16, 2021

To Love a Kaiju

Remember when you were little and a sibling would build a little town made out of Legos and you'd take your stuffed T-rex and rampage through it, destroying everything while they went crying to mom? 

No? Then you were probably the younger sibling. 

Either way, from that time to the latest Godzilla Vs. Kong to hit theaters, there's always been something appealing about a giant monster destroying a city, causing untold property damage just by taking a single step. 

Why is that? 

Defining a Kaiju

Kaiju (Japanese for "Strange Monster") is the franchise featuring giant city-leveling monsters. This can range from the aforementioned and arguably the granddaddy of them all Godzilla to Rita Repulsa's monsters destroying Angel Grove in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to even moderately sized monsters like the rampaging rex in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I'd even argue that Clifford the Big Red Dog's shannegains counts as kaiju action, especially if you're the guy working for the city who has to clean up after Clifford goes walkies. 

The genre isn't just defined to action movies like the Godzilla franchise or Pacific Rim, they appear in horror films like Cloverfield, family comedies like Honey I Blew Up The Kid, anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion  and  Attack on Titan and even heartwarming animations like The Iron Giant. 

Why do We Like Them

Kaiju have the same appeal as zombies where they act more of a force of nature than something that can be reasonably defeated. When encountered, typical humans can only run away and hope that the thing passes without them getting stomped flat or eaten. Unlike disaster films though, the kaiju is a living being, which means that it's driven by want and need, and thus the disaster itself can become a character in the film. Sometimes that character is sympathetic, since it didn't choose to be a 300 foot tall gorilla, sometimes it's beyond our comprehension and whatever it wants we have no way of knowing, and the thing decapitating the Statue of Liberty is just its way of venting frustration. 

The kaiju film gives us the cathartic sense of wanton destruction with the empathetic connection we get from seeing another living being, which can either be turned toward identifying with the creature or being repulsed by the creature, depending on what the film is trying to accomplish. We feel terror at the Cloverfield  monster because we don't see it and therefore don't know what it is or what it wants. We fear Godzilla because he's destructive but also root for him when he destroys other, more intentionally destructive beings. We sympathize with the Iron Giant because he's trying to be human despite being a giant space robot. 

We're Not Here For The Humans

Quick question: While watching Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers were you most eager to see: 

A: The teens sitting at the juice bar discussing their Full House level problems

B: Bandai's intercut action scenes where hitting someone resulted in a firework going off

C: The heroes piling into robot dinosaurs and wrecking a guy in a Styrofoam costume

If you're answer was C you get my point but for those who it wasn't let me hit a point. 


When I first saw 2014's Godzilla  I was disappointed when a majority of the run time was taken up by the tragic love story of a soldier trying to get back to his wife and kid after being separated by Godzilla. Whenever everyone's favorite radioactive lizard was on screen the camera would pan to people reacting to him or cut to footage of the monster wreaking havoc on a TV in the background while we saw characters try to figure out how to stop him. 

I nearly walked out of the theater. 

The human element is necessary to give us scale and context to the monster's destruction, but nobody's here for them. In some character driven dramas like Attack on Titan where they have time to flesh out the characters and show their reaction to living in a world where they are under constant threat of monster attack, that's a different story, but when you have two and a half hours to tell a story and the major pull is that giant monsters will be destroying cities, get your character stuff set up fast because we won't remember their names anyway. 

Here's a second question for you just to drive my point home: What is the name of Clifford's owner? 

When you have a kaiju in your movie, everything else surrounding them is a garnish, meant to enhance the presentation not overpower it. The kaiju is the Thanksgiving turkey of the table, a giant Thanksgiving turkey that will step on anyone in its way. 

-JOE

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Caravan of Craptastic Courage

I think I watched the Ewok Adventure movie about a thousand times growing up. I loved it! I was 6 or 7 when the Star Wars spinoff movie came out in 1984. I grew up with Cindel and her cute little headband. I thought I identified with Mace and his struggles to want to be better. I loved the cute little Ewoks and I felt like I could be part of their tribe. I got so scared of all the monsters, and I would jump at all the jump scares, every single time. This was probably in my Top 5 favorite movies when I was a kid. I watched it so many times I wore out that VHS tape. In fact, upon rewatching it on Disney+ (just added to their lineup this month), I kept waiting for the wavy VHS lines to distort the Gorax's face, but the digital remastering restored the the film to its original glory.

Ah, glory.

The Ewok Adventure's title was eventually changed to Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. Okay, fine. So I put on the show with my family and decided to give it a go, the first time I had seen it in about 30 years. Wow, what a blast from the past! It truly felt like I was watching something from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... 

Upon rewatching it, I was struck by a few things:

  • As a kid, Cindel was my favorite. She was cute, sweet, and I really loved her. But no, in 2021, it's just bad acting. I can forgive it though, the girl is like five years old. It's fine.
  • Mace is so bratty. If you thought Luke Skywalker was whiny complaining about power converters, or Anakin Skywalker was a grouch moaning about sand, well Mace is on a whole new level. He complains, he's grating, and he's just kind of a jerk. (Maybe he really is a Skywalker!) He even disgustedly throws away a magic rock, which pretty much dooms the entire group. Talk about selfish!
  • And on the subject of magic, where does this element come into the Star Wars universe? The closest thing there is to magic is The Force, the parameters and mechanics of which are explored in great detail over several movies. But here sits this old made-for-TV-movie about Ewoks, and they suddenly have a magic walking stick, a magic rock, and a magic candle? As an adult watching, it just doesn't feel like Star Wars
  • The writing is poor. It doesn't help that the majority of the movie is "acted" by children, monsters, and creatures who don't speak English. If you thought the first nine abrasive minutes of the Star Wars Holiday Special were bad listening wookiees grunt and growl and gesticulate, just wait for an entire movie of Ewokese "spoken" by characters who aren't as cute as the producers think they are.
  • The story is just ... just not great. All the tools needed to be successful are given to the group early on the in film. There's no question about how the story is going to end. In fact, the biggest surprise is when the Gorax falls down the giant pit, but then hangs on to the side and is still alive! 
  • And speaking of the Gorax, I really felt badly for him! He wasn't evil, he wasn't bad, he was just doing Gorax things. Heck, he didn't even kill Cindel's parents, and it didn't look like he was going to. Watching the show now, I see the Gorax as a big intelligent being who found some helpless "animals" in the woods, and brought them back to his home to take care of them. And then the the animals' family broke into the Gorax's home, destroyed his property, and murdered the big guy. Not cool. 
  • I also watched the sequel Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, which was just as bad. I'm not going to go into details, but my takeaways were: Did they really kill Cindel's entire family? When did Wicket learn English? And isn't Endor the planet, and not the moon where the Ewoks live? (But that's the geek in me coming out.)

However here's the good news: I watched this with my kids, and we really enjoyed it! Yes, we laughed at some of the silliness, and we rolled our eyes at the campiness. But we enjoyed a fun bit of Star Wars spinoff, and we had a good time giggling at the special effects (which yes, one a Emmy back in the day). Sure, Caravan of Courage is no Candle of Pure Light, but it certainly is not some ceremonial rock that should be tossed aside!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Samwise Gamgee: The Greatest Hufflepuff


Just finished up watching Lord of the Rings for the first time in tens years (I know, I’m a bad geek; so just slap my wrists and let’s move on). As I watched the trilogy again with ten more years of life experience, I have one big takeaway: Frodo sucks.

You know who doesn’t suck though? Samwise Gamgee. Repeatedly throughout the series Frodo treated Sam very poorly and Sam just took it. Seriously, is there a character in fiction or reality more loyal than Sam? To put it in Potterhead terms, if any hobbit were a Hufflepuff, it would be Sam.

This point was driven home to me after Gollum destroyed the elven bread and framed Sam. Instead of siding with his best friend of countless years, Frodo decided he’d believe the scrawny little imp that was really planning his death. 


I think many of us have been there before. We’ve been betrayed or disappointed by people we trusted. Maybe it was a parent, a childhood friend, or a significant other. How could someone we loved so much take the other person’s side instead of ours, right? Whatever your situation, that kind of sting is hard to recover from. And yet Sam’s love for his friend was more powerful than that sting. He didn’t give up on Frodo, even when Frodo continually told him to leave.

In the end, it was only because of Sam that the Ring of Power was destroyed. They say the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Meek meaning gentle, submissive, long-suffering, modest, humble… a list of traits all describing Samwise Gamgee. It was necessary for Middle Earth’s hero to be so humble and gentle… I don’t think anyone else could have given up the Ring so selflessly.


It’s even said that Tolkien himself considered Sam the chief hero of the series (though I can’t find a source confirming the comment). So the next time someone tells you that you have to be like Iron Man or Harry Potter to be a hero, tell them about Samwise Gamgee, the greatest Hufflepuff there is.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Janeway: Trek's Best Captain?

(Guest Post by Ken)

Among Trekkies, one of the most commonly debated questions is the classic Captain preference question: Kirk or Picard? While there is an ever-growing pantheon of additional captains in the Star Trek Universe, certainly not all deserve to be default options to the question and certainly Kirk and Picard, as the most famous of the club, have earned their place there. But I would contend that one additional captain at least deserves a place in the running alongside these two: Voyager’s stalwart Captain Kathryn Janeway. Hear me out on this.

Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway

Janeway, expertly portrayed by Kate Mulgrew, is a great example of everything Starfleet looks for in a Captain. Above all, her defining trait is her commitment to her standards. While confronting captains with difficult moral dilemmas has always been the most consistent premise of Star Trek from the beginning, no show has challenged the integrity of its captain as much as Voyager did (okay, you can maybe argue that Discovery Season One challenges Captain Lorca more, but in that case he roundly failed the test!). Indeed, the entire premise of the show hinged on Janeway’s commitment to principle in the first episode when she makes a choice to protect an alien race, but in doing so strands her crew on the far side of the galaxy, along with a crew of Federation ex-patriot outlaws, who she mercifully decides to integrate into her crew as they face a daunting 70,000-light year journey back to Earth.

Along the way her principles are continually challenged. She has to grapple with the consequences for her crew of her initial choice, while along the way having to continue to apply civilized principles to a far more uncivilized area of the galaxy. Numerous times she faces the prospect of shortening her trip or ensuring her crew’s safety if she’ll just compromise in the smallest way, but she ultimately sticks to what she believes is right, even in some truly muddy lose-lose situations. And she isn’t motivated by rules-obsession. She acts the way she does not because Starfleet rules tell her to, but because she believes she’s doing what it right. Indeed, on several occasions she shows no hesitation breaking a Starfleet rule if it conflicts with doing what is right (her humorously consistent disregard for time-travel rules being a frequent example). 

One attribute that really sets her apart from other captains is her level of personal care for her crew. No doubt Janeway runs a tight ship, but she also cares deeply about the personal needs of each member, regardless of how they joined the crew, whether as original crew, the integrated renegades, random alien species who join along the way, a fully deputized medical hologram, or even a severed Borg drone. While Kirk often seems aloof in regards to crew members beyond his core officers, while Janeway goes out of her way in one episode to take her lowest ranking and worst-performing officers on an away mission so she can better know and help them. Picard often showed some individual concern for his crew, but also had a tendency to publicly rebuke even teen cadets in front of their mothers (“Shut up, Wesley!”). Janeway could certainly get angry with her crew, but she tried to correct in private first when possible, as demonstrated by one of her most common catchphrases, always delivered with a seething glare: “In my ready room.” That phrase meant you were in trouble, but Janeway wasn’t going to give you your lashings in front of your peers. 

Image result for janeway angry on bridge
The Janeway death-glare

Of course, at the time Voyager began, what really set her apart was simply that she was a woman. Some people at the time actually derided Voyager as only existing for Trek to wave a diversity flag by offering a female captain. Others have maligned her as a character clearly written as male but played by a woman. I disagree on both counts. 

To the first misconception, I’d argue that Voyager exists as great storytelling with a fully diverse ensemble cast beyond just Janeway. It has a very unique story, in many ways the franchises first trek (pun intended) into a more serial story-arc. There is a single continuing plot which carries the entire seven season show, which distinctly broke from the other three series before (okay, four if you count the Animated Series, which no one does). 

To the second point, one thing I love the most about Janeway, and especially her portrayal by Mulgrew is that she can be a bold, brave, hardened captain, but also is so distinctly allowed to be written as a woman who shows some distinctly feminine strengths and traits. Previous Captains were males written too tough to have committed love stories (the exception is Benjamin Sisko, but even he is already widowed by the time DS9’s story begins). Janeway, on the other hand, is engaged as Voyager begins, and gets separated 70,000 light years from her fiancĂ©. She holds out faithful to him and doesn’t learn until the fifth season that he has moved on and married another woman. She shows great personal struggle in her desire for companionship, knowing it is inappropriate to have a romantic relationship with any of her crew members, but stranded away from any other people who could be otherwise permanent in her life. At one point she even falls in love with a hologram. These stories are shown not as weakness, but character fulness, and you never got to see the male captains this way. It was refreshing and made her so very human.

We also get to see her maternal instincts fully on display through her role as substitute mother to Kes in the first three seasons and to Trek’s most famous Borg, Seven of Nine, through the latter four seasons. We definitely got to see glimpses of paternal instinct from Picard on occasion, and Sisko was actually a dad in DS9, but Janeway brought an unprecedented feeling of nurturing to her role as Voyager’s commanding officer.

See the source image
Janeway and Seven of Nine

And let’s also not forget: Janeway figured out how to seriously kick some Borg butt unlike any other hero in Starfleet history, and also defeated Species 8472, the only aliens even the Borg were terrified of. And she did it all with just her one ship and crew and no Federation armada to back her up.

So, what do you think? Does Janeway deserve to have her name alongside Kirk and Picard in consideration for greatest Trek captain? Apparently the creative staff at Paramount believes so, as she’s about to join those two hallowed names as the third captain (after the two aforementioned greats) to get incorporated into a new Trek property apart from her original series. Janeway will be joining the upcoming animated series, Star Trek: Prodigy later this year as a principal character.

Animated Janeway from the upcoming “Star Trek: Prodigy.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Why #RestoreTheSnyderVerse

The Marvel movie ends, the post credit scene finishes and the crowd of fellow geeks turns to me expecting me to answer their probing questions, like who Thanos is or what an Infinity Stone is. While I am the "That Guy" of my group of friends, Marvel was never my main wheelhouse. I even skipped the first Iron Man in theaters because I just didn't care. My house is a DC house, and for 13 years I've been living in the wrong universe. 



The Snyder Cut

The release of the Snyder Cut of Justice League gave us a glimpse of an alternate universe, one where the DC franchise was the big superhero franchise, the one that raked in the billions, and the one on everyone's lips. Don't get me wrong, I love the MCU. Every character is a treat, and even the worst movie is still well executed, but nothing compares to my excitement when a new DC movie is announced. Justice League gave my DC heart everything it ever wanted, all my favorite characters with hints of more. I feel we got a glimpse of what could've been, or more specifically, what should've been. 

DC vs. Marvel

Non-comic fans may want to know what the big deal is, since they're both superhero franchises just with different characters. That's just it though, it's the different characters. Unless you grew up with an incredible amount of free time and disposable income, as a comic nerd you had to pick one universe to follow over another. Growing up I picked DC, the bright colorful heroes who always did what was right no matter what appealed to my young sensibilities more than Marvel's darker real world undertones. Ironically the franchises have since traded tones since DC made an R rated Joker movie and the MCU now exists next to Mickey Mouse, but I digress. It all boils down to a mayonnaise vs Miracle Whip decision. A boxers or briefs decision. A PC or Mac decision. It's a personal preference thing, and you can like elements of both without having your ethics brought into question. My preference though is DC. 



The Stories We Lost

Without DC becoming the mega franchise, here is but a small list of things we probably will not get to see on the big screen, compiled by yours truly with an ache in his heart. 

Justice League Dark

The Killing Joke

Death In The Family

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Reign of the Supermen

The Flashpoint Paradox

Hikeitia

The War of Light

The Judas Contract

Villains United

Identity Crisis

Fourth World

Gotham City Sirens

Kingdom Come

My point is that we are missing a lot of great stories that could be explored because the Snyderverse was cancelled. 

Hope Remains

Will DC restore the Snyderverse, salvage the DC films and create something great? Only time will tell. It's hard to blame them if they don't, since it would be an expensive undertaking and will now not only be compared to the MCU directly but back to its own past failures with critics and trolls constantly looking for things to destroy, but maybe. The real good news, however, is that while Marvel loudly brought out blockbuster after blockbuster DC quietly created a library of animated features that can easily hold their own against their cinematic counterparts in both companies. Several of the aforementioned stories have been explored in animation and are incredible pieces of art, and all are streaming on HBO Max (Seriously, with as many times as I've mentioned them on this site they need to start coughing up royalties). 



If you are a DC fan realize that if we don't get the universe we want, we at least have several pieces of the universe we deserve, just animated. 

-JOE

Monday, April 5, 2021

The One Where Rachel Kisses Everyone

Flashback to the 90s and early 2000s. Friends was the big sitcom. In my opinion, no other sitcom can match up. I love Community and I appreciate Scrubs and The Office (How I Met Your Mother is another subject all together), but there’s something to be said about Friends lasting ten seasons. Never mind the longevity it had, it had some amazing continuity that was rare back then, before streaming services--not perfect continuity, but pretty good for the 90s. 

Of course with all sitcoms we have the comedy portion and a lot of character drama too, especially romance. In Friends, like most sitcoms, the two often overlapped a bit. The romance/comedy that I want to focus on is the sheer amount of kissing that happened between the six friends. Unless you count the implication of a single line between Ross and Chandler, only one friend has the “glory” (if you can call it that) of kissing the other five friends. That honor goes to Rachel Green. So let’s take a look at those five moments in her history.


Rachel and Ross

Obviously Rachel kissed Ross a lot over the course of the series. Their first kiss was when they did laundry together, but they also dated for over a year and were on and off for years after. Even after they broke up, they kissed at the beach, in the hallway, after Rachel’s Europe story, and when they finally got back together in the finale. I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of times they kissed, but I figured that covers them for our purposes.


Rachel and Monica

It never happened on screen, but Rachel and Monica did kiss. After being roommates for 3+ years, they lost their apartment to the boys. In order to finally get their apartment back, they played into boys’ lust and agreed to kiss each other in order to win back their place. So at least they got their home back in the end. Think it was awkward between them afterwards?


Rachel and Chandler

Their first on-screen kiss was all part of a ruse. As Chandler was trying to hide his relationship with Monica, he covered up kissing her by being “European” and kissing the other girls too. So it may not have been consensual (and Rachel definitely told him off for it pretty quickly) but that’s how it happened. However, later on, during a season 10 flashback, we learned that Chandler actually kissed Rachel back in college, to get back at Ross. 


Rachel and Joey

The first kiss that comes to mind for Rachel and Joey is probably the kiss in Barbados or their brief time dating in season 10. We definitely need to address those for this subject, but I’m actually going to throwback to New Years 1999. In an effort to hide Chandler and Monica’s relationship from the others, Joey schemed a way to make it work for them, by pairing up Ross with Phoebe and Rachel with himself. Who ever said Joey wasn’t smart? Even years before dating her, Joey knew how to get a kiss from Rachel.


Rachel and Phoebe

Always the dull straight shooter, Phoebe didn’t think Rachel would do anything so “wild” as getting drunk and kissing her sorority sister. After Rachel got Melissa to confess (by surprising her with another kiss), Phoebe surprised Rachel with a kiss of her own. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that much; Phoebe is probably the loosest one of the group, even compared to Joey. But here we are.

Which kiss was your favorite in Friends? And which was your favorite of Rachel’s boyfriends? Not Ross, they’re dysfunctional. Let me know for the next time we discuss Friends on the blog.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Friday Creature Feature - Greendale Human Being

Hello Greendale! I hope you had a wonderful March 32nd yesterday. In honor of this prank-free day at Greendale Community College, let’s talk about the Greendale mascot: The Greendale Human Being.

Back before Dean Pelton changed things, the school’s mascot was a grizzly. Fearing for the students’ fragile self-esteem, the Dean and Pierce Hawthorne created a new mascot to humanize the student body. In their attempt to make the Human Being as racially and ethnically neutral as possible, we ended up with (when you boil it all down) a man in a unitard and a creepy face.


Despite how creepy the Human Being looks, I think we all love him/her/it as fans of Community. Or at the very least we share an affection for our mascot. And throughout the six seasons of Community, we got several variations of the Human Being, making our time at Greendale even more endearing. So enjoy some of my favorite variations of the Greendale Human Being.

Dubbed the "Cupid Being" for Valentine's Day in "Communication Studies". 

The Human Being couple on family day during "Basic Genealogy".

A Rudolph Human Being for the holidays in "Comparative Religion".

I met someone cosplaying the Human Being at FanX 2019

And now I think we've enjoyed the Human Being enough for one day. Make sure you let us know your favorite Human Being moment in the series. I'll be watching for mine as I finish my current watch of the show. And in the meantime, here are some parting words from Dean Pelton.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Enough with the Fishing Minigames!

 I was playing through the latest indie darling Hades, drinking in the rich atmosphere, the interesting reinterpretation of the Greek pantheon and trying to escape the underworld when out of nowhere a character hands me a fishing rod and says that if I spot any fish swimming in the currents of the River Styx I could catch them and...

...And then I tuned out. 

WHY DOES A GAME ABOUT ESCAPING THE UNDERWORLD FEATURE A FISHING MINIGAME?!

I've noticed that fishing minigames have infiltrated most of my favorite games, and are popping up in genres where they don't belong, almost like a computer virus set up by Bass Pro Shop has infected Steam. Since I seem to be the only one bothered by this, I figured I should be the one to bring up the subject, the good, the bad and the ugly. 

Where They Belong

Now wet me clarify that fishing in video games in general is not a bad thing as long as the fishing is part of the core experience. Farming games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing the fishing makes sense because that's part of what you do. In general any life sim style game where the point is that you're just quietly making a life for yourself for me is perfectly acceptable to have fishing in it. 

In the same vein, collector games like again Animal Crossing or more importantly the Pokemon franchise make sense because you're collecting things that live under water, and it's realistic to expect a person to try a pole and bait before dawning a full scuba suit to get a goldfish. In these instances fishing isn't only a core part of gameplay but adds to the immersion of the game itself, 

That being said...

Where They Don't Belong

Rule of thumb: Anything where the main character's main role is to be the stalwart hero of the land and save all the peoples of the land from bad guys, that's where fishing minigames don't belong. 

Take Monster Hunter for example. You spend hours fighting giant kaiju and turning their skin and bones into more fashionable underpants for yourself, and yet the game asks you to occasionally stop the epic monster fighting so you can put a line into water to catch a fish. The lurching difference in gameplay is as startling as it is frustrating. 

While I have no doubt that Frodo and Sam had to take time to catch dinner every once in a while, the films thankfully saved us from having to watch them sitting along the bank of the Dead Marshes trying to catch a trout. Video games in some effort to add realism, or more likely to extend run time, make us watch the mundane activities of the hero deciding what to have for dinner. 

A What-If Scenerio

Okay picture this: What if every video game, regardless of genre, had a Mario-Kart-like level where your character had to race around a track and win races. The game would stop you at one point during your adventure for an elaborate tutorial on how to drive your cart, special power-ups, and had items you could only obtain by winning races. I think most players would get halfway through a race watching Geralt of Rivia in a tiny go-cart race NPCs and rage quit the game. 

That's about how I feel with fishing minigames. They don't make sense in every game, and yet they're appearing in games anyway and the only reason I can figure is that Bass Pro Shop has some expert hackers that have infiltrated the gaming industry and are trying to create a new generation of fisherman. 

-JOE

Friday, March 26, 2021

For Narnia and For Aslan!

With Easter coming up just a week away, I wanted to throwback to one of my favorite series, Narnia. This series won my heart back when I was a freshman in college and it never let go. So as we look forward to Easter, I want to talk about quotes by Aslan, Narnia’s representation of the Savior. 


“If the Witch knew the true meaning of sacrifice, she might have interpreted the deep magic differently. That when a willing victim who has committed no treachery, is killed in a traitor's stead, the stone table will crack, and even death itself would turn backwards.” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 2005 Movie)

I wrote about this one a couple years ago. The White Witch was conceited enough to think that Aslan could be defeated in the name of the “deep magic” holding Narnia together. It makes me wonder how the adversary can believe he has an edge against us in mortality. Satan thought he had won our souls when Jesus Christ died, but he must have overlooked just how powerful the Atonement would be in saving the sons and daughters of God.


“Oh, Adam's son, how cleverly you defend yourself against all that might do you good!” (The Magician’s Nephew)

Isn’t this true of human nature? It’s easy to disregard counsel and advice when it’s hard to do. We fight against people who have different opinions from our own and we get defensive. Maybe this is why Jesus Christ said that the meek would inherit the Earth. If it’s our pride that gets in the way of listening to God’s word, then it’s meekness and humility that enables us to turn to God to transform us into our best selves.


“To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that.” (Prince Caspian)

It would be impossible for me to tell you how much time I’ve wasted on the “what if” game. What if I had changed my career path sooner? What if I had mended bridges with that friend sooner? What if I’d held my tongue instead of losing my cool? It’s a beautiful thing to learn from the past, but when I let myself live there, it only brings me down. In the movie version, Aslan says that we can’t know what would have happened, but “what will happen is another matter.” So let’s learn from our mistakes and use it to better the future.


“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mill so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” (The Horse and His Boy)

I’ve written about this one as well. I remember during my first reading this book I was struck by these moments. It was a hard time in my life and this quote gave me comfort. Despite all the things weighing on my heart, I could tell the Savior was watching over me. Through friends, through family, through strangers. Despite how alone I felt, I was never alone. 


“But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” (Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Here’s a good one to end on. John Piper is quoted as saying “All heroes are shadows of Christ.” It’s a bit more explicit in Narnia than in other series, but wherever there is good, you can find the attribute of Jesus Christ. Of course there is no better place than scripture to find those Christ-like attributes. So as we head towards Easter, let’s take some extra time to search and learn of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Lessons from the Hill

I was 17, about to graduate high school, and start college. I was an unpopular kid with maybe 3 or 4 friends who I could hang out with. My parents suggested I try applying to be in the Hill Cumorah Pageant (the Church's visual retelling of stories from the Book of Mormon). What the hey, I can give it a shot. I applied and was accepted. Little did I realize that my experiences there would change me dramatically. 

When I arrived at the Hill, I was put into a group of peers. We would learn church lessons together, share our testimonies with each other, and experience incredible moments in some of the Church's most hallowed properties, like the Sacred Grove, or the Hill Cumorah itself. I was challenged to read the Book of Mormon while I was at the Hill, in a timespan of less than a month. I spent hours sitting on the side of the Hill Cumorah (the original location of the very plates that would eventually become the book I was reading), absorbing the stories and teachings. I have a vivid memory of the sun setting on the Hill, reading the words of the prophets, and feeling this overwhelming love from God. A feeling that told me that all these stories we were acting out, the words that I was reading, everything I was being taught -- it was all true. It really happened.

When you read the Book of Mormon in less than 3 weeks, you miss a lot of the details and nuances. (I would get those specifics later in subsequent readings.) Instead, you see the rise and fall (and rise again and fall again) of a nation of people. You see God's hand continually outstretched to a group of people that would sometimes turn to Him, and sometimes get caught up in their pride. You see a story of a God who loves his people, even when they don't make good choices.

Yes, that's me in the blue pants,
rehearsing to die on the front stage!
(Click to enlarge.)
In the pageant, I played a Frontline Nephite Battleman, a faceless fighter who could have fought in any of the myriad of battles in the Book of Mormon's thousand year history. I died on the very front of the stage, sprawled and mangled unceremoniously. What fun! I enjoyed it so much that I decided to come back a second year, when I was 19. That year I played Laman, one of the main characters who would eventually lead his family to destruction and spiritual death. As Laman, I had a chance to taste of the fruit of eternal life, but I chose to turn away and reject it because of my pride. This wasn't some nameless fighter, this was a very real man. A fully formed human being with a wife and children. Laman saw miracles and angels and was given a testimony, but he rejected it because of his pride and arrogance. 

I've thought about Laman and his choices. How am I like Laman? I've received a witness of God's word, a testimony of the truthfulness of all those stories we acted out on the Hill. I know they happened. More importantly, I know the words and teachings in the Book of Mormon come from God. And I have a choice just like Laman did: keep walking that path to reach the fruit of eternal life, or let my hubris and stubbornness get in the way of my progression. My life is a journey, and sometimes I meander away from the path, and sometimes I am firmly rooted on the path. But no matter what, I can always thank Hill Cumorah and my summers at the Pageant, and remember that they gave me a foundation and witness of what I believe to be true.


Monday, March 22, 2021

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Early Thoughts

Full disclaimer: This is not my bag. 

Let's talk about genre for a second.. 

Genre is that division that tells a consumer of media what they can expect from whatever they're about to consume. It's the thing that makes me skip the latest family sitcom because prior experience has told me that I don't like family sitcoms, and the same thing that makes me immediately interested in the latest horror anthology to hit Netflix. 

Marvel has mastered genre in its long years dominating the big screen. Superhero movies are too broad a category to lump the MCU into, since Guardians of the Galaxy was a space comedy and Thor was an epic fantasy opera. It appears that the Disney+ shows are following suit, with WandaVision being a fantasy/horror mix with heavy pop culture references, and now The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a Tom Clancy/24 military thriller where the participants happen to have robot wings and arms. 

Military thrillers are not my bag. 

That ALL being said, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's first episode wasn't a bad experience. 

Okay, throat sufficiently cleared, let's get into the review. 



A Post-Blip World

Like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes place months after Avengers: Endgame, where everyone who was taken away by Thanos's snap returned thanks to Tony Stark. Although the world is celebrating the reuniting of families and a return to a semblance of normal, chaos is threatening to tear the world apart as the population has effectively doubled once again. The political climate is a hotbed of problems, and luckily the government has the Falcon to help sort it out, because nothing helps political instability settle down faster than a man with robot wings. 



Redemption

Outside the military, Bucky Barnes is trying to cope with living in a not only post-blip world, but a post Winter Soldier world. He is plagued with PTSD of his former life, and the confusion of being 100+ years old but never experiencing the world around him outside of assassination missions. This doesn't mean he can't have awesome high-octane fight scenes with his robo arm, it just means that they're relegated to flashbacks to back when he was the most dangerous man on earth. Bucky is now trying to find his place in the world while making up for all the harm he's done to it. 

The New Cap

The first episode doesn't give us much to go on regarding the overarching plot of the series, just buildup and hints at what's to come, but one of the show's biggest talking points is who is going to be the next Captain America. Falcon decided to donate the shield to the Smithsonian, not believing he was worthy to wield it, but the government turns around and gives the shield to the world's most punchable face and calls him the new Captain. As of the end of the episode we have no idea who this guy is and what makes him worthy of the title, but I'm sure we'll find out in the weeks to come. 



Again, Not My Bag

Like I said, overall I enjoyed the show despite it being far from my wheelhouse of usual media consumption. Bucky is a compelling character that I fell in love with in Captain America: Winter Soldier but the genre just isn't one I get excited about. Fans of the MCU who just want more and probably fans of the espionage military world will probably love it, but anyone who wanted more WandaVision is going to be disappointed to find something very different, and this time we can't blame Agatha. 

-JOE

Friday, March 19, 2021

7 Weird Green Lantern Facts

 He's not the most well known character in DC, even though he might be one of the most powerful. He's Green Lantern, and he's had a weird history in comics. Most of it stems from finding ways to make him not the most broken DC character, or to make him interesting as well as being overpowered. Here's a few times those attempts were more interesting than he was. 



7: The First Green Lantern Was Weak to Wood

Alan Scott was the first person to become Green Lantern, forging his own ring and lantern out of a mysterious meteorite he found, because that's normal. He made force fields and constructs, just like the  modern Lanterns we know and love, but one sliver of oak and his powers are rendered useless. Darkseid with his Omega beams have no chance against Alan Scott, but a thug with a baseball bat and the Lantern is helpless. 



6: His Love Interest Became a Super Villain

Carol Ferris was the love interest of the most well-known Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. She was the stereotypical strong independent business woman who don't need no man, whose daddy owned the company Jordan worked for (Never date the bosses daughter). At one point she obtained a sapphire ring, which had basically the same power as Hal's but was retconned to work using the power of a broken heart. Star Sapphire was one of Green Lantern's fiercest opponents, teaming up during the Darkest Night story arc to stop the Black Lanterns (We'll get to that later). Heroes have dated villains before (See Batman dating Catwoman and Talia Al Guhl and Wolverine dating every female in the Marvel universe) but none have ever dated someone that then became a villain they later had to fight. 

5: He's Been Disarmed Several Times

The Green Lantern's power ring is one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, so you would think it would be hard to take from the wielder, but it turns out... It isn't really. Batman has proven that he can take the ring whenever he wants, just by distracting the Lantern for a few seconds. Deathstroke proved that he could stop a Lantern from using the ring by enforcing his will into the ring despite it being on the Lantern's hand. 

They really need to put a lock on those things...


4: The War Of Light

For years there was only one Green Lantern group, then in a massive storyline it was revealed that they're were several different rings of varying colors, each powered by a different emotion across the galaxy. For about a year the Lanterns tore the galaxy apart, while anyone who didn't care or wanted to follow the saga was left to just watch the light show. It lead to the Darkest Day, when a black ring gave DC an excuse to play with zombies, and then Brightest Day, where they brought a group of dead heroes back to life permanently. 

It's a good way to make a character relevant by making him the focus of every comic book for over a year, and then give him at least two dozen new friends to play with. 



3: Superman Met the Lantern Responsible for Krypton

Tomar-Re was on his way to Krypton to save it when he was blinded by a solar flare (You'd think the ring could protect against that but here we are) and he didn't get to the dying planet in time before it exploded. Superman eventually met the Lantern in what was probably one of the most awkward meetings in comic history, right up with Jean Grey finding out that Wolverine was sent by Magnito to assassinate Xavior and Gambit accidentally destroying Blob's costume and got full on Blob nudity. 

2: Green Lantern Likes Handing Out Rings

Besides the full-time Lanterns, rings have been given to, among others, Superman, Batman, Scarecrow, Lex Luthor and the Flash. During the War of Light, rings were being handed out to anyone with fingers, and to anyone dead once the zombies started coming out. The equivalent of this would be Batman making bat-suits for all his friends, or Tony Stark making Iron Man suits for other people.... 

Oh wait, that is a thing...



1: Green Lantern Once Nearly Destroyed the Universe Then Became One of the Most Powerful Beings in the Galaxy

Okay follow this:

Green Lantern's hometown was destroyed, and his bosses wouldn't let him rebuild it, so he went berserk, killed all the Green Lanterns in the galaxy, and started calling himself Parallax. 

Still trying to find a way to save his town, he went back in time with a bunch of people to restart the universe. Basically hitting the reset button on reality. 

Okay now buckle up cause it gets weirder: 

After he was defeated, he died trying to save the earth from another disaster, partially redeeming himself. In the afterlife it was revealed that Parallax was actually an alien energy being that was trapped in the Green Lantern energy that found its way into Hal Jordan's mind and possesses him. To redeem himself, Hal became the Specter, a powerful angel of vengeance. After years of being dead he was brought back to life because... Reasons... and the Parallax/Specter thing was forgotten. 

Superheroes can have incredibly convoluted stories, since they've been written for nearly a century with different authors and influences effecting the characters. Green Lantern, particularly Hal Jordan, has been through an especially complex history, because Green Lantern is a complex character with complex powers. 

Can you really blame DC for not being able to make a decent movie out of this mess? 

-JOE 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

How to Defy Gravity


Maybe I'm fixated on her verdigris, but nobody does self reflection better than Elphaba. Halfway through the popular show Wicked, this green girl goes through a major life change and finally takes flight as we all knew she would. I can relate. At the midpoint of my life, I also went through some big changes and finally realized my true worth and power.

Something has changed within me. Something is not the same.

Elphaba has lived her life making herself small, feeling like an outsider, wondering why she was given a "gift or a curse". Then she has an event that changes her dramatically. When I was 42 (the answer to life, the universe, and everything), I had several things happen to me in a short amount of time: I witnessed my best friend's suicide, my wife left the Church, my son was diagnosed with brain damage. I went to therapy, and I quickly realized how much I despised myself because of my own "gift or a curse" I had inside. And it was right there in that therapy session that I decided to go on a journey of loving myself. Little did I know it would be setting off on a journey to work on my mental health, and eventually to defy my own gravity.  

I'm through with playing by the rules of someone else's game.

Elphaba is done listening to what others think and how they judge her. Screw them all! She doesn't know why she has this magical ability, but she knows it's part of her and she's ready to accept this aspect of her person, no matter how scary it might be. I'm still working on this part, I'm a work in progress, afterall! But I know that the more I stop worrying about the judgments of others, the closer I come to fully accepting myself, the way God intends me to love myself. 

Too late for second-guessing. Too late to go back to sleep.

This is Pandora's box. Once you've passed the point of no return, it's impossible to go back and wonder if you made the right choice. For better or for worse, this is the choice that was made, and it's time to follow through. You can never go back to numbing yourself and hiding parts of yourself. 

It's time to trust my instincts. Close my eyes and leap!

This right here. This is faith at its essence! When I was going through my self realization, I learned more about prayer and faith than I ever did in my entire life. I learned what it meant to pray, feel I received an answer, and then act on it. It's as scary as facing a great and powerful wizard, but it's the only way one can truly fly.

I'm through accepting limits 'cause someone says they're so.

Who is the "someone"? And why do we worry about what others say we can or can't do? We know ourselves, and we can do whatever we put our minds to. As Elphaba says, "Unlimited! My future is unlimited!" (By the way, fun fact: Did you know those first 7 syllables are the same notes as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"?) Elphaba starts the show thinking she is limited in her ability to make changes, in her ability to fully realize her life. But when she finally rejects all those who limit her, she learns how powerful she was born to be. Likewise, humans are literal children of God. Get rid of the toxic and abusive people in your life. We were born to be unlimited. 

Some things I cannot change but 'til I try, I'll never know!

This should be the mantra of every person who wants to continue growing and learning throughout life. True, there are things that we don't have power over, and that's just fine. But we might surprise ourselves with the influence and power to change that we really do possess. But it requires us to close our eyes and leap!

I'm flying high, defying gravity!

End of the first act concludes with both a literal and figurative high note. Elphaba flies! She defies the wizard, she defies Glinda, and she even defies her own self doubt. Anything that pulls her down, she sheds, and she finally takes flight to the Western Sky. And haven't we all felt moments like these, where we can feel ourselves breaking past all the judgments of others, including the judgments we put on ourselves? (And if you haven't ever felt this sense of freedom, ask yourself what area of your life you can close your eyes and leap?)

And so Wicked has taught me that I am really am the unpopular freak with the green face. And when I finally learned to accept this fact -- accept who I am, embrace the weird, and let my freak flag fly -- that's when I finally found the magic to soar high. And if I'm flying solo, at least I'm flying free. And nobody is ever gonna bring me down!

Followers