Thursday, August 14, 2014
“What have you been up to?” That’s the question I dread most when I bump into an old acquaintance. Truthfully, for the last seven years, I’ve accomplished little. A few part time jobs here, and a few classes there. Certainly not enough to impress someone who I didn’t want to see in the first place. As I make up an excuse to end the conversation, I’m left wondering if I’ve just been spinning my wheels.
Luckily for me, I’m not the only one that’s had this problem. In Akira Kurosawa’s drama, Ikiru, a bureaucrat by the name of Kanji Watanabe has spent 30 years of his life as a glorified rubber stamp. A rubber stamp for giving citizens the run-around, no less. It isn’t until he gets an x-ray and discovers he’s stricken with terminal stomach cancer that he begins to change.
Of course, not all change is good. At first, Watanabe tries to shake up his monotonous past by getting drunk and flirting with prostitutes in the night. Here, he’s a stumbling and lost man. It isn’t until providence leads him to talk with an energetic young toymaker that he’s inspired to make a real difference in life.
For his six months left on Earth, Watanabe fights government waste and corruption, and even stands up to a gang, to have a park built for children. Using all his reserves of strength, he succeeds, and finally dies at peace on a swingset. As an aside, Ikiru, produced all the way back in 1952, has sensational acting and an eye for the subtle. When Watanabe started tearfully singing “Gondola no Uta” I nearly cried myself.
Ikiru and Watanabe’s life’s message is this: It’s not too late to change. What a Christian message! Look at Peter, who denied Jesus three times, yet became the rock of the church. Or look at the thief on the cross. He didn’t even have half a year, at the last possible minute he was redeemed.
Ikiru also shows the feebleness of the institutions that are supposed to protect us. The film shows us clearly how politics is not our salvation. To put it another way… the people you elect don’t give a damn about you. Bob McDonnell and John Edwards are just the guys that got caught.
Still, what I come back to is this: Watanabe is us. Every one of us. We are all clocks ticking away. Not all work is equal. For many toil in a haze, barely alive. We’re not dead yet. Let us live and love one another.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Beliefs are funny. That is, everyone has them but few will admit as much. I remember very distinctly how when I first became a Christian, one of my irreligious friends smugly quipped, “Yeah, you know that’s not true.” It was actually quite uncanny. You see, at that moment my friend had only one worldview: that Christianity was not a viable worldview. That was it. Yet despite such intellectual failings, he believed himself in the right.
I remember another moment when I quoted something Paul said on homosexuality in the Book of Romans. My libertine buddy did not like the Bible’s viewpoint, and angrily shouted that I didn’t know what God thought. As childish as he was acting, you know something? He was partly right. I don’t have the mind of God. That is, I don’t know everything.
Yet I’m the one who is going to take a stand on what’s true in the universe. I’m not just going to sit on the sidelines and be an elitist hipster. I’m going to take the famous wager and bet with my life that God exists. Not because I’m afraid I might be wrong, but because I want to believe that Jesus really did love us so much that he sacrificed himself on a cross. His death is worth living for.
I know atheists and scoffers will delight in seeing me fall from time to time. It will be a justification for their own perversity. But you know what? My faith has already been vindicated… and it’s been vindicated just recently.
An ex-prisoner, who I helped out by driving him to his brother’s funeral, was on the verge of tears as he thanked me for my time. You can’t fake emotions like that. Where are all the “freethinkers” in soup kitchens and nursing homes? They aren’t there. I may not have it all figured out, but I’m throwing in with Jesus. And in so doing, I’m throwing in with the least of these.
We all have to deal with limited amounts of information. We can’t know every “jot and tittle” of the cosmos, but we have to eventually come done on one side of things. Are you going to believe in yourself, or are you going to believe in God?
Saturday, July 12, 2014
3. Halo Legends (2010)
2.Silent Hill (2006)
It's no secret that I think Silent Hill 2 is one of the most beautiful stories ever told, video game or not. So, what does that make this movie then? Well, the special effects are stupendous, and it's definitely as scary as Dick Cheney hunting. It's just that the story isn't all that above Jeepers Creepers or any other creature feature of the week. Still, the film is gorgeously macabre. For once, the producers seemed to actually give a damn as to whether the foggy sets were authentic or not. They even got the look to Pyramid Head down right. Konami would be proud! Now if they could only make a decent Resident Evil movie...
1. Mortal Kombat (1995)
Yeah, the fact that this is the best we have doesn't say a whole lot about an overflow of quality licensed material... Despite my whining though, Mortal Kombat is pretty damn entertaining. It takes a lot for a kid and an adult to be delighted by the same action onscreen. This film was a minor phenomenon when it was released stateside in the mid 90's. From Liu Kang dueling the frost ninja, Sub-Zero, to Johnny Cage trading blows with the skeleton from Hell, Scorpion, Mortal Kombat did not disappoint. "Your brother's soul is mine!"
Friday, May 16, 2014
I’ve talked about my depression pretty in depth before, but I think the subject warrants an entire article. That’s because it’s now a part of me, like other facets of my being. So, what’s it like living with clinical depression? Well, let’s take a breath and dive in.
Depression is like someone’s sucking away at the very marrow of your soul. Imagine that for years on end, your joy in almost its entirety was snuffed out. It’s as if reality’s colors have dimmed. It’s like a movie without sound. In short, it’s terrible. I’m not sure where it came from, but it’s here now. This biochemical tribulation has been like a cerberus hounding after me in some Lovecraftian hellscape.
Enough with the metaphors, eh? The bottom line is that sometimes I feel a hurting emptiness where my heart should be. I can’t enjoy the things I once loved. Worse than that, I want to die. Not every day, but close to it. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy… and yet it is mere ordinariness for me.
The worst part about the suicidal thoughts is that they come from nowhere. I can’t predict them and I can’t prepare for them. Each time it comes it’s like a black wave crashing over me. I try praying. I try reading my Bible. I even try watching anime. Nothing works in those moments. It’s then that hopelessness creeps in. I have idealized death in some form every week for the last seven years. It’s tiring.
Here are things you must know if you’re reading this and don’t understand depression. First of all, don’t blame the person who is suffering. Be understanding and use your words carefully, you don’t want to trigger a negative emotion. Secondly, be around for that person. Seriously, be around. If you’re going to make a commitment to be a shoulder to cry on, you need to stretch your availability. Finally, if someone you care about is talking about wanting to die, don’t take it as idle conversation… get professional help immediately. Also, as an aside to my fellow Christians: don’t tell someone they’re depressed because they didn’t pray hard enough. Say that to their face and you might be walking funny afterwards.
That’s as basic as I can give it to you, but maybe that’s enough. To finish, I’ll tell you what keeps me going: faith that there’s a purpose for my suffering. Basically, faith in God. If I didn’t believe that there was an objective reason for my existence, I would have already committed suicide. I mean that with every atom that I am. So don’t tell me that I can get by on my own strength, because you don’t know what you’re talking about. Either I believe there’s life in Jesus, or I believe in the void of death. For today, I choose the former.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Ah, The Thing… and no, not your grandpa’s Thing from 1951, we’re talking about the good Thing, the John Carpenter Thing. I swear, the 80’s were just prime time for horror classics. They included famous frights like Aliens, Predator, Poltergeist, The Fly, Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, and finally, The Thing. The Thing didn’t perform as well as the other films listed above. Part of this was due to the infinitely overrated E.T. that came out at the same time in 1982. That, and the title of “The Thing” is a bit inherently nebulous. Either way, sales on VHS soon picked up, thus preserving The Thing’s cult legacy.
What makes The Thing so unique is the titular monster itself. It can be any organism, and mimic it perfectly. As Childs, one of the characters said, “If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was really me?” The Thing takes place at an arctic research station, which just enhances the sense of dread and desolation. Once the alien Thing is unwittingly brought to base, it soon takes on human form, and hides among the men there. No one is as they appear to be.
It’s a wonderfully horrific setup, and something that is quite unlike other conspicuous creatures of the 80’s. What I also love is the special effects. This is pure, unadulterated 80’s stop-motion magic. From the tentacles that burst out of the dog monster, to the two headed mutant that they first encounter, The Thing is just filled with macabre mystery and splendor. My favorite effect had to be when an apparent crew member’s head falls off, and it actually sprouts legs and an eye stalk! I sympathized with the guys onscreen, when one remarked, “You gotta be fucking kidding.”
As hinted above, the film has a slightly humorous tone, as though the characters simply can’t believe that this is happening to them. The lead protagonist, MacReady, even spits out some badass one liners, like when he sarcastically shouts “Yeah, fuck you too” as he throws a live grenade into a roaring Thing’s maw. Also, the end of the film is almost poetic, as Macready and Childs sit suspiciously watching each other as the last two survivors in the glow of burning wreckage.
So, the first Thing is awesome… but wouldn’t ya know it, Hollywood made a prequel. Seriously, does every popular film from the 80’s have to have a reboot? Well, apparently so. Anyway, this Thing was released just three years ago, and told the story of the Norwegian ice base right before the 1982 version. It’s an intriguing concept, as the original really didn’t delve into HOW the Thing was unearthed.
So, it’s a moderately interesting perspective, but the film stumbles in a number of areas. For one, the special effects are garbage. The Carpenter Thing was replete with amazing models and makeup… not here. Everything onscreen has been typed away on a keyboard. Put simply, it’s pure CGI. Now, I’m not against all CGI, but it just looks unconvincing here. Also, the monster designs themselves are by the numbers and ho-hum. Basically, all the Things have big mouths in this edition… that’s about it.
There was one cool aspect of it, however: the UFO design. For years I had wondered what the interior of the alien craft looked like, and honestly, this film did a pretty great job at filling that gap. I really liked the weird little cube that the Thing was working with… it seemed believably futuristic.
Saturday, April 26, 2014
So, when I say Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, what comes to mind? Rarely are they the same images. The Genesis had Sonic, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, and Shinobi. The Super Nintendo had Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Star Fox. All different genres, each with unique audiences in mind. Then, if you had a lot of money back in the early 90’s, you could buy a computer gaming rig. You had to buy special graphics cards and get the newest version of Soundblaster, but it was worth it for revolutionary games like Mechwarrior 2, Wing Commander 3, and Wolfenstein 3D. No matter what you had back then, you had a completely different experience than the kid across the street.
Now fast forward to the early 2000’s. This was a time when graphics finally started to approach realism. Consoles were even starting to give computers a run for their money, and for the first time, many PC games made their exodus from the office to the living room. Still, as in the early 90’s, each system had its own unique style. The PS2, which was first out the gate, was the big seller back then. It had a little bit of everything, but seemed to particularly thrive on Japanese heavy hitters like Capcom, Konami, and Square. The Gamecube, on the other hand, was devoted to more party games like Mario Kart and Smash Brothers Melee.
Finally, you had the Xbox. While I loved the Xbox (it was actually my favorite console that generation), I noticed something peculiar about it at the time. That is, it really didn’t have an identity. Rather, it was the first console to rely pretty heavily on already entrenched titles from the PC. Granted, there were huge exceptions to that like great original games like Halo, MechAssault, and Knights of the Old Republic. Yet even these games were touted for the wrong reason: it reminded people of what they played on the computer. Halo, as wonderfully creative as it is (the first two Halos are high up on my top 50 list), was developed originally to be a console gamer’s Half Life. By 2005, the Xbox even had two flat-out poor man ports of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2… where their mediocrity could only be enjoyed by those without a keyboard.
By 2013, consoles have finally hit the low watermark: redundancy. Simply put, why on God’s green earth would I pay half a thousand dollars to play an inferior console game that’s already available for only a marginally more expensive, and more versatile, laptop? Seriously, does anyone have a cogent answer to this? I would really like to hear it, and I’m not being sarcastic. The Xbox One is seriously trying to sell itself by ignorantly strutting around with a glorified webcam and offering the dumb opportunity to watch football… on my TV. Wow. Awesome. I guess there’s always Titanfall, right?
If anyone doesn’t think this market is on the verge of collapse as it’s currently defined, is living in Microsoft or Sony fanboy land. The future of hardcore gaming is already here: it’s called a computer. The future of casual gaming is also here: smartphones and microconsoles like the Ouya. This time last year, everyone thought the Ouya was a joke… most still do. It’s true that it was largely a flop, but it latched onto a profitable idea: most people don’t want exclusive gaming platforms anymore. They want games to go along with their Netflix, not the other way around.