Monday, November 17, 2014

Review: Doctor Who Series 8

This past Saturday was the first without a new Doctor Who episode since August. It's okay, I'm crying about it too.
The good news is, I'm gonna review the 8th series for you here. Its ups, its downs, its good moments, its annoying ones.

But first, let's give River a moment:


So, now that you've been warned of spoilers, let's start at the beginning of the series.

Many Doctor Who fans had been waiting for over 8 months for a new episode since The Time of the Doctor aired Christmas 2013. But since my wife and I began watching Doctor Who 1/1/2014 and got to The Time of the Doctor in July, we only had a month to wait.

So, we return to Victorian England to see Strax, Jenny, and Vastra help Clara transition from Matt Smith's really young Doctor to Peter Capaldi's....let's just say he's older. Deep Breath, though a little lengthy, was a very interesting episode. It brought in the series villain, some woman named Missy. For a return to the series with a brand new Doctor, it was well-done in my opinion. it gave us some insight to the Doctor trying to understand who he is. It brought us the second time a companion has had to deal with a new Doctor in the modern series. (Which to be fair is the 2nd of 3 possibilities.) And of course, it brought us the return of many-a-fan's favorite trio of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. Strax of course made the episode completely enjoyable with his interactions with Clara.

I could probably talk about Deep Breath for a whole blog post or two. But the series did continue on with some decent episodes. Into the Dalek brought us some of our new Doctor's antics and his kindness toward his greatest enemy. Although, Capaldi's nicknaming this Dalek as Rusty, seemed nothing short of Matt Smith's nickname for the Cyberman head as Handles. Don't know why, but it bothered me.

We once again got to meet a historical figure in Doctor Who. After Dickens, Shakespeare, Churchill, and Van Gogh, we got to meet Robin Hood. I loved how the Doctor didn't believe that Robin Hood was real and tried to prove it. Of course, Clara is smitten with Robin Hood (despite having met Danny in the previous episode.)

After that, you get this season's creep factor episode in Listen. It is one of the most beautifully written episodes with a decent "wow" moment. Having Clara meet a very, very young Doctor and being the cause of the Doctor's curiosity was an awesome moment.

Then you've got the boring trilogy of episodes. Yeah, I liked Time Heist for the Ocean's 11 aspect of it. But it was predictable and felt like they merged a few past episodes into this one because someone had no original idea. And then The Caretaker was okay, but in the end, made no sense. There was no reason for the Doctor to call Clara and Danny out of "parents day". But as I watched it twice, he does point to them both. The only "reasoning" is he knew Danny would look after Clara. Kill the Moon was extremely lackluster, with the exception of the end when Clara utters this awesome line:

Greatness returned in Mummy on the Orient Express. I did not like the similarity between the flying train vs the flying boat from Voyage of the Damned. However, this was a pretty awesome voyage. After Clara's tirade, this being her "swan song" with the Doctor *cough*liar*cough*, this episode had two moments that would make any fan of Doctor Who (both classic and modern) smile. First: the Doctor doesn't say it, but he does in fact offer a Jelly Baby. And then, for the modern fans, as the Mummy goes to attack him, he asks the quintessential question that hearkens back to Eccleston and Rose: Are you my mummy?

Flatline and In the Forest of the Night were both good Clara-centric episodes. Watching this character actually lie to her boyfriend. Flatline was, for me, what Listen actually tried to be. Listen tried to be this season's Blink. But Flatline, I think, topped it. Clara without the Doctor was awesome. And really, Danny has got to be the most forgiving guy out there for how many times Clara has deceived him. In the Forest of the Night, he still doesn't care. I did like how the children were used for this episode, despite the fact that they seem to young compared to the other students at Coal Hill.....

And then we get the two-part finale. It starts with another item on the "Why we hate Moffat" list. The extremely senseless death of Danny Pink. Seriously, did the writers put themselves in a hole? Did someone stop liking Danny? Were we afraid of an Amy/Rory repeat? Blah. Now this gives Clara a reason to die. Veto!

Of course, we got to see who Missy really was. Were you surprised? I wasn't. What? Wait! How? Well...it was the clue she gives earlier in the season. She refers to the Doctor as her boyfriend. As a viewer, I questioned why would she say that. Was she someone from the Doctor's future, like River? Was she River somehow regenerated? No, River was eccentric, not crazy. Could this have been Clara somehow? Or Rose? No, neither one made sense. Romana could have fit the bill, but it just didn't seem right. So...it brought us to the Master. First: come on, her name was Missy! Couldn't connect Missy to Mistress to Master? Second: Who else would be this plotting? Third: Who else had such a history with the Doctor to call him her boyfriend, even jokingly.

So Danny's dead. And then Missy goes on a "bananas" killing spree and kills Osgood! What? Why would you need to do that? This is why Moffat needs to be smacked so hard he'll regenerate. There was absolutely no good reason to kill the character that represented every geek ideal. It'd be like killing Felicity Smoak on Arrow (that better not happen!). Ugh! Thanks a lot Moffat!

And then they make it look like Missy had killed Kate Lethbridge-Stewart. Thanks to her Cyberman-daddy, Kate didn't die. Which of course made no sense to me, but whatever. Time-traveling Cyberman, I suppose. I do think Danny's final act was selfless, despite it hurting our Clara.

But see, my fear going into this series was that Clara would die and leave the show. So thankfully, that didn't happen. And I was really glad that they were able to create a segue into the Christmas episode (for the first time since season 3's Voyage of the Damned.) But, it was a very upsetting finale. It ranks 4th to last for me (barely above Time Heist) on the 8th series. And the only reason it edges that out is because Osgood said "bow ties are cool".

So, that's my review of the 8th Series of Doctor Who.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Problem with Legend of Korra

It's been a while since I've had a good rant, so here we go.

The other night I'm sitting with my lovely wife catching up on our stories when we decide to catch the latest episode of Legend of Korra. I go to Nick.com, find the episode and we sit there hoping that Toff shows back up to beat everyone into line.

Then it froze.

The video froze so I did what any tech savvy millennial would do and tried to move the little time bar to a different location, when I did that the video skipped to the end credits. Any attempt to get back to our place would send us back to the ending, so I did the next thing a computer savant would and hit refresh. This worked but it meant I had to sit through another five or six commercials for kids toys again.

This happened four times.

On the third time, between my incoherent growling and threats to my computer, I noticed something that sent me over the edge: The video would only malfunction during the show, never during the commercials. We had watched Once Upon A Time on ABC.com before this incident and it had run perfectly fine so I decided it wasn't my computer, it was Nick.com. I'm usually not a conspiracy nut but if there was a way to make people watch these stupid commercials over and over this was the way to do it.

Usually I don't mind commercials but let me explain what these were for: Toys. Toys for children around the age of twelve. Now I don't have kids. I know kids, I teach kids, but I'm probably not going to be buying them a lot of toys this year, but I don't know any kids who watch Legend of Korra. I'm not even sure I know any parents who would let their kids watch Legend of Korra. Avatar the Last Airbender sure, that had the same mix of kid humor and adult-ish drama to be like a John Bluth movie from the 80's, but Legend of Korra is full of political intrigue, the complexities of relationships, and personal growth. It's basically a PG-rated Game of Thrones, and I just don't see a lot of kids getting into it.

And therein is my problem: I am a grown man with no children trying to watch a mature, well written television series, but because the show happens to be animated I'm treated like my entire goal in life is to get a Happy Meal.

Listen Nick, the corporate entity that you are, I get that you're trying to swing for the elementary school demographic. Fine. But could you please move Korra off your bloated website that's overrun with these stupid videos, ads, and games, all designed to milk lunch money, and put it on another site with maybe some respectability so that the thing can at least run well enough that I can catch my show without being explained the highlights of owning a Sponge Bob Lego set? Maybe just maybe if you actually cater to an audience that has complete control over their disposable income instead of limited control obtained through crying you may find yourselves with a whole new cash cow and you can finally take Sponge Bob out behind the tool shed and put two in his head. Believe me it works, because I've spent a couple hundred dollars on Game of Thrones and Walking Dead merchandise in my life alone and I didn't have to beg my mother for a dime of it.

Rant completed, go back about your day.
-JOE

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Less Obvious Lesson

The only word I really have for yesterday is "unique". On the scale of "good to bad", this unique day leans toward the good.

I can't go into too much (or much at all) about my ward's bishopric meeting. But there was a moment when we were discussing something and I felt like I should give some input. As the discussion continued on, I hadn't said much. To be fair, I didn't feel like it was my place to speak. And then as the conversation quieted, I realized that I was supposed to open my mouth. 

It doesn't matter what I said. It really doesn't matter if my suggestion and thoughts are what's going to happen. What matters most is that I opened my mouth. I am not an extrovert by nature. I'm fairly introverted until I get comfortable with my setting. And in bishopric, being the executive secretary with no prior experience, I don't know what I can and cannot say. Or should or shouldn't say. However you wanna look at it. 

Looking at that moment, I did wonder if what I said was stupid or completely off base. And I thought, why would I feel impressed to say it if it's not the course of action that is going to taken? What was the point of it?

There's that lesson that everyone needs to learn. That moment of "will you do what you're asked" when what you're being asked seems to have no change or effect. It's that moment that becomes an act of faith and a show of obedience. Sometimes, there's a less obvious lesson we need to learn.

This moment gave me confidence the rest of the day. It reminded me that I am credible. My impressions can be from the Spirit and I can do things without worrying about whether or not what I said was stupid. Because in the end, listening to the Spirit isn't stupid.

During Sunday School yesterday, we were talking about stories in our lives where we followed a prompting. Reference was given the Elder Bednar's "Tender Mercies" talk.
 The experience I shared happened in May of last year. I had lost my wedding ring three months earlier and had no idea where it could be. Many times I had thought about where it could be and wondered where else to look. Many times I felt like I should pray and I didn't listen to that prompting. But one day in May, I decided to swallow my pride and prayed. Within an hour, I had forgotten about the ring and was cleaning up something. The moment I picked something up, I found my ring. 

So, there's another spiritual post for you.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review of Arrow: Season Two

Last month I posted my review of the first season of CW's cult hit TV series, Arrow. About a week after that, the second season came out on Netflix, and I started watching it. And by about another week later, I had finished the second season finale.

Cover of the Blu-Ray for the second season of Arrow
I've come to the conclusion that either I have a lot of free time on my hands, I'm obsessed with this show, or Arrow is really just that good! I know I don't have that much free time on my hands, and though there is a possibility that I am obsessed, I would lean more toward it just being that good.

If you haven't watched the first season and don't want any spoilers, don't read any farther until you've watched it. While I will keep spoilers for the second season to a minimum, in order to do justice to this review, I'll need to reference a number of the events from Season One.

So with that disclaimer out of the way, on to the review...

The logo used for the first two seasons of Arrow
The second season starts a couple of months after the end of the first season. Many of the characters are still feeling the consequences of the events in the first season finale. Moira is in prison awaiting trial for the part she played in the Undertaking. Thea resents her mother for what she's done and has been avoiding her. Laurel has started working for the district attorney's office and is dealing with her grief for Tommy's death by trying to bring down the vigilante. Oliver has gone back to the island to escape Starling City and the guilt he feels for failing to save Tommy and the Glades. Roy is trying to follow in the vigilante's footsteps by taking down criminals when he can. And Quentin Lance has been demoted for supporting the vigilante and has developed a grudging respect for Oliver's alter ego.

Diggle and Felicty go to the island to convince Oliver to come home. And though he reluctantly does, he is hesitant to putiting the hood back on, as he feels he failed the city. And after Tommy's death, he is not willing to go back to being a killer. Evnetually, with some help from Diggle and Felicity, he decides he can still fight to save his city.

In the opening monologue for most of the second season, Oliver says, “but to do so, I can't be the killer I once was. To honor my friend's memory, I must be someone else. I must be something else.”

There is a scene that I love in which Oliver tells Felicity and Diggle that he doesn't want to be called the Hood anymore, and as Diggle asks Oliver what he does want to be called, they show a close-up of Oliver holding up an arrow. Throughout the rest of the season, the other characters transition from referring to him as the vigilante or the Hood to calling him the Arrow.

And a new masked vigilante, this one a blond woman dressed in black, has shown up in Starling City.

And all of this happens in just the season premiere.

The Arrow starts wearing a mask during the second season
The second season is very much a transition of Oliver transitioning from being a vigilante to being a hero. It is not an easy journey for him, and his resolve to save his city without killing is tested repeatedly over the course of the season.

I mentioned in my review of the first season that I was bothered that Oliver didn't have the morals about not taking lives that the heroes that I followed most closely did. I was excited to see the changes in Oliver's character as he goes through the transition.

We also see the other characters grow and develop. Even after the amazing character development of the first season, many of the characters prove to be more complex than I could imagine.

Others have joined the Arrow in his crusade
Some of the other characters are a contrast to Oliver. The Canary is almost a reluctant hero. She feels guilt and shame about her past, and while she admires the hero that the Arrow is becoming, she has difficulty believing that she will ever be more than what she has done in the past.

The Canary
The Huntress and her vendetta show what Oliver could have become. Helena started out as someone just wanting to do the right thing. But tragedy in her life twisted her goal from justice to vengance, even to the point that she is willing to take innocent lives to achieve her goals.

The Huntress
Deathstroke is an example even more extreme than that of the Huntress. He is not only willing to kill innocents to acheive his goals, he is willing to take down an entire city to get his own twisted form of justice.

Deathstroke
More than anything else, the message of this season is that individuals have the freedom to make their own choices and decide what kind of person they want to be. Oliver had his crucible from the five years he spent on the island. Others' crucibles included losing loved ones. Some are broken by their crucibles. Others become dark and turn into villans. While still others come through it stronger and become heroes. Each person has the choice of how they respond to their circumstances.

In this season, we also see new antagonists develop, one of whom is someone from Oliver's past that he thought dead. There also continue to be Easter eggs for lovers of DC Comics, with more characters from the DC Universe being introduced throughout the season, including a voice cameo of Harley Quinn. But the one I loved the most was Barry Allen, and how his introduction was used as a back-door pilot for the new Flash TV series.

Barry Allen introduces himself to Oliver and Felicity
This season, much like the first, had me captivated from start to finish with rarely a dull moment.

The main cast of Season Two of Arrow
I am now looking forward to watching Season Three. Although only four episodes have aired so far, I am already hooked, and look forward to seeing where they take the series next. As I will now have to wait each week for a new episode, it may be great practice of patience for me.

So if you haven't started watching Arrow yet, I would encourage you to start soon so that you don't miss out on this amazing series.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Animalis-LDS author's first book!

I found out the other day that a dear friend of mine from high school, John Peter Jones, just published his first book! I had a chance to sit down with him and discuss what it takes to be published and to talk about his new teen sci-fi adventure. Check it out!




You can pick up his book here from Amazon for Kindle. Do it fast!

-JOE

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

490 Gifts

I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. A friend of mine once said that we're all crayons leaving marks on one another. He said that sometimes we hurt others with the marks we leave on paper. We can dwell on our past mistakes or we can learn from them. We can seek forgiveness and forgive and turn those marks into a beautiful picture. It may take time. Forgiveness may be withheld from us. But we can always learn from our mistakes and see it as a gift instead of a curse.

Honestly, I think he said it better but I couldn't find the original quote.

Crayons can make a mess. They can also be beautiful.
In the latest episode of Legend of Korra, Asami visits her father, Hiroshi, in prison and returns a large stack of unopened letters. She tells him she wants nothing to do with him after he's hurt her. Hiroshi pleads with her to stay. He talks about all of the regrets and everything he ever accomplished as an engineer and entrepreneur. Hiroshi says the one thing he created he's truly proud of is his daughter, Asami.

Asami leaves in tears. How many times did her father use loving words that conflicted with actions of hatred or indifference? The conflict she would feel in wanting to protect herself but also wanting her father back. Asami retreats to the park. There, she sees a father and daughter play Pai Sho.

Asami returns to visit Hiroshi in prison. She tells him when she first came to visit him she said she wanted to tell him that she never wanted to see or hear from him again. She wanted to tell him this because she wanted her words to hurt him. She wanted to hurt him so Hiroshi would know how she felt. Asami tells him of the sadness she felt in a tainted past and relationship. Hiroshi expresses wanting to make amends. Asami says, "I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forgive you but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try." The father and daughter then play a game of Pai Sho together.

For me, forgiveness is not a destination but a journey. I've had to wake up every day and make the decision to forgive those who have hurt me. I need to remember to forgive myself for my past mistakes, sins, and transgressions. It's easy to feel hurt, bitter, and angry. It's hard to forgive.

Asami had trouble forgiving her father Hiroshi.
Forgiveness can become easier over time. Day by day it can become a strength. Overtime, learning to forgive each day helped me face the biggest challenge in forgiveness I could ever face. It was when I looked at my abuser in the eye and forgave him.

I was sexually abused when I was 4 years old. I think I've mentioned it here before. I made the decision to forgive my abuser face to face. I told him what my experiences were leading up to that point. I didn't sugarcoat it, the experience was hard. I expressed my hurt authentically but also objectively. This wasn't about shaming him but being heard. I then forgave him. I told him that I knew he was a different person then. I believed he changed and even if he hadn't I would still forgive him.

I felt most powerful feeling when I told him, "If you are held accountable at the last day for what you did it will be me that stands up and defends you. I will be a witness for your change." Tears were streaming down our eyes when I said this. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life that really taught me something about the atonement. I felt changed that day. I felt more love for myself and more peace.

I haven't thought much about my abuse ever since then. I barely ever think about it. Before, I often felt its shadow over me but since forgiving my abuser, I've been free. Forgiveness gives us freedom. It is a gift to ourselves and whoever we extend forgiveness to--if they accept it.

The savior said that we should forgive not once or seven times but "seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:22) He isn't saying we only have to forgive 490 times either. Christ means that we should always forgive. That doesn't mean we let ourselves get hurt again. We may still set boundaries with those that hurt us. That may mean blocking them on social networking sites or not inviting/allowing them into our homes. Each situation is different and it is between you and your Heavenly Father on where those boundaries need to be.

Those boundaries do not prevent us from showing love or loving those that have hurt us. Forgiveness is a process. It may take a lifetime for trust to be built back up and wounds to heal. I know that despite the difficulty, forgiveness is possible and powerful. It can be a gift to us and bring us closer not only to our Heavenly Father but to the men and women we want to be.

-Stephen





Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Hero Dash

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to run in a race. That in itself isn't big news, as over the years, I've run in more races than I can count.

What did make it special is that this was The Hero Dash and Zombie Run. This 5K was a joint event hosted by Salt Lake Comic Con and the Utah Rotary Club, and it benefited three different charities, Operation Underground Railroad, the Huntsman Cancer Institute, and End Polio Now.

An ad showing all the swag that came with registering for the race, as well as listing the charities it supports
The Utah Rotary Club has hosted the Zombie Run for several years. This year they joined forces with Salt Lake Comic Con's Hero Dash.

Costumed runners getting ready at the starting line
Initially I signed up for the race because it combined two of my interests, superheroes and running. When I found out about the charities the race benefited, I was even more impressed by it.

The start and finish line for the race
I first heard about Operation Underground Railroad at the Salt Lake Comic Con's FanX earlier this year. It was featured in one of the panels I attended. This wonderful non-profit organization consists of many individuals who have worked either in the military or as government agents. They work with local legal authorities around the world to end human sex trafficking, which includes rescuing children involved in human trafficking, helping to rehabilitate them, and arresting and prosecuting those that run these human trafficking rings. The work they do is amazing, and more information can be found on their website: www.ourrescue.org

The Huntsman Cancer Institute is well known to many that live in Utah. This organization does state-of the-art research into cancer treatment, prevention and education. They are among the lead and most respected researh organizations in the field. As I have had a family member die from complications due to luekemia, I am grateful for the work that they do. More information can be found on their website: healthcare.utah.edu/huntsmancancerinstitute 

End Polio Now is an organization sponsored by Rotary International, with the goal to end polio throughout the world. Though polio is not an issue in the United States, there are still developing countries where polio is endemic, and End Polio Now is making headway in eliminating this crippling disease from the world. More information can be found at their website: www.endpolio.org 

A number of the costumed racers gathered together after the race
In addition to the charities that the proceeds from the race went toward, this was also a fun race with people dressed up as zombies and as superheroes and other sci-fi/fantasy characters. It was really a fun event to get into the spirit of Halloween. I went as Green Lantern, as I already had a costume available I could easily run in.

Me before starting the race...

...and after the race
Though the run wasn't quite as organized as most races I have been to (there were no instructions when registering online as to what part of the very large park the race was to start from, and I'm all but certain it was not a full 5K), and I was really out of shape as far as running goes, I still had a fun time, saw a lot of cool costumes, and got to watch a mini-concert after the race. And the support going toward the charities certainly made up for any shortcomings in the actual race.

The mini-concert after the race
And there was also an announcement from Dan Farr of Salt Lake Comic Con. FanX is indeed happening next year and tickets go on sale next month!