Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Creature Feature-The Gentlemen

So every Friday we're going to profile some critter from one of our favorite geek franchises. What better way to start the weekend then by remembering some of the best freaks fictional worlds have to offer? This week we'll take the award winning creature, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Gentlemen.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer followed the monster of the week format, with an overarching story to connect it together. The Gentlemen only showed up in one episode and were pretty much never mentioned again, but the episode they had won the show an Emmy. What is this amazing monster you may ask?

The Gentlemen, as explained by Giles, are demons who appear randomly throughout history to steal hearts and can only be destroyed by a maiden's scream. They posses a magic box that steals the voices of everyone in Sunnydale when they arrive, so most of the episode is done completely without dialogue.  The Gentlemen themselves are freaky grinning ghouls, and look like a mix between those aliens Sigourney Weaver was always fighting and the Joker. It's a huge credit to the makeup artists on this one, who usually did a pretty good job with the Buffy monsters (Except for werewolves, but that's a personal opinion), since these things freak veterans of the series out, even in reruns. So the Gentlemen wander around town stealing hearts while Buffy and the gang try to beat them. Yadda yadda yadda Buffy manages to scream at one point after a thing with the box and down they go.
So what makes these guys so creepy? Well to start is the whole no voices thing. As if people's hearts disappearing isn't enough, to add not being able to communicate properly just adds to the tension. It's a huge credit to Whedon's writing and the caliber of the actors to pull this off as well as they did. The second piece is just how unsettling they are. There's some Star Trek novel out there where Kirk explains that the scariest looking beings in the galaxy are the ones who look so much like humans but aren't, like an uncanny valley effect. On top of their looks they've got this whole polite pantomime thing going on, like they're sampling cheese while they're choosing who's hearts to take. There is no villain who could come up with dialogue that would match the simple gestures and freakish grins these guys have while they're looking down at a victim as he screams without sound. It's just eerie.
While the show was pretty much all about monsters, Whedon didn't really have anything else that was scary in Buffy throughout it's run. The vampires, though well imagined, seemed to lose the creepy factor with the forehead effect Whedon added. Besides that mostly everything else was a ripoff of various monster movies and mythologies. He wouldn't create something this bone chilling again till years later, when he wrote the Reavers in Firefly. So the Gentlemen get special notice for being an awesomely creepy monster that shines out in a show about monsters. Just remember, "They need to take seven and they might take yours..."
-JOE

Beauty in the Dungeon

From guest author, Ashley Larsen
beauty in the dungeon



Ladies. You know what it's like.

Saturday rolls around. Oh yeah, it's on. Dungeons and Dragons. In a few hours, you'll step into a world blatantly ripped off of Middle Earth from Lord of the Rings and transform into a Tiefling paladin ready to fight evil and look totally hot while doing it. 

Unfortunately, in the real world, you don't have a boyfriend, you don't have a 25 Charisma (even if your character does) and you're not the least bit attracted to anyone in your D&D group OR they're already dating people OR you're related to them… Yeah. 

 Or your one of the few ladies who's dating the DM. If you don't get in-game points for that, refuse to kiss him again until you get a +6 Tower Shield and a white dress that magically never gets dirty and bumps up your Diplomacy skill +3. 

(TANGENT: Anyone ever seen the show Legend of the Seeker? Kahlan wears a white dress through all of season 1 and it stays remarkably clean. I can't even go through a spaghetti dinner without dropping something on a white t-shirt, so I KNOW that's got to be a magical dress.
TANGENT OVER.)

No reason to dress up then? Maybe you're tempted to show up smelling, and looking, as bad as the guys (joke, dudes. Y'all don't look that bad. Please don't send me hate e-mail because you think your cargo pants and 'It's A Trap Shirt' from shirt.woot.com is hot stuff). I know I've done that before, shown up looking like Charlize Theron from Monster instead of well Charlize Theron. And if you LIKE looking like Charlize Theron from Monster, well then, that's your prerogative and you should pull off that look the best you can!

But I'm not like that. All the time. Occasionally, I like to run around with no make-up, a lumberjack t-shirt, and yesterday's jeans. More often, I like to look, feel, and breathe pretty. That's a natural feeling, ladies, and one you don't have to be ashamed of. Nothing wrong with spritzing up with a little lip gloss and pink high heels. Best thing is, you can spruce up an outfit with those little accessories. Still want to wear the skinny jeans from two days ago and the dinosaur t-shirt from Hot Topic? Go ahead! Wear them proudly. I love to pair my pink heels with jeans. The fact that I can't walk in them still is another story. Yes, it's stupid, but the pink heels are for aesthetic appeal, not walking, and you sit on your butt for 6 hours with D&D anyway. In my opinion, best time to wear the killer high heels is when there is no walking necessary. 

Do we want to live like the stereotypical nerd girl? Frizzy hair, bad teeth, hideously bushy eyebrows, and zero social skills? NO! We're more than that! WE are smart, beautiful women with the imagination to power BioWare AND Disney! We're fun, geeky, and unique! WE have personality, depth and soul! Then why dress like a Medusa, and instead reflect the inner beauty with the outward hottie? I vote for lipstick, perfume, pink high heels and sexy hipster glasses along with broadswords, a polyhedral turquoise 7-dice set, and standard Player's Handbook.

To make an already long story short, what I am saying is this: We can be Penny and Sheldon at the same time! Ever see the Big Bang Theory? Four nerds become friends with a fashionable waitress named Penny. That's the short of it. Beauty and the Geeks type tale. Let's take a leaf from Penny's book. We can look like Penny, but geek out like Leonard. Lipstick? Penny. A d20? Howard. A Chi straightener(LOVE IT)? Penny. A tendency to make-believe while eating mass amounts of Reduced Fat Sour Cream and Onion Pringles and slurping down can after can of Diet Coke over a five hour game? Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, Raj.

A Wonder Woman costume? Penny and… Sheldon? Er… O.o….

Ladies and gentleman (instead of Penny for you, think Don Draper of Mad Men or Jeff from Community), let's have our cake and eat it too. In style!

Step aside,  prom queen bimbos of the world! The nerd girls are here. And yes, we play Dungeons and Dragons, in your high heels.

Ashley Larsen

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Geek Friendly Athletics

Ok, so most geeks really aren't into sports.  If you're one of those geeks that actually really loves sports--fantastic!  More power to you!  Now, if you're like one of those other geeks who isn't so much into sports I thought I'd share with you my thoughts on sports and athletics you may enjoy.

Why should I care about athletics?
Well, as a Latter Day Saint (or intelligent non-LDS geek) you may want to take care of your body.  Our bodies are gifts from our Heavenly Father that he's allowing us to borrow right now.  This time on earth is a time for us to be tested and part of that is what we do with our bodies.  This is why Mormons don't get crazy piercings or tattoos.  (Though, to be honest, if I wasn't LDS I'd probably get some tattoos.  Really, I think some of them are beautiful.  Just sayin'.)  That also means that we should try to take care of our bodies as well.  Eating right and regular exercise.

The thing about exercise is that it's boring.  I have to have a buddy with me to really keep myself motivated for exercise.  The same could also be said for some mainstream sports and athletics.  Baseball, Soccer, and Football can be hard for some of us geeks to watch because of a lot of reasons.  It could be we don't share interests with the players or other members of the audience.  It could be we don't have a team we feel connected to.  Whatever the reason I've come up with some athletics that I think would be easier for geeks to find interest in.

Martial Arts
Martial Arts is always a great place to start for geek friendly athletics.  The heroes of comic books and other geeky literature tend to be martial artists.  Martial Arts is more exciting to watch then other competitions.  From a geek perspective, you could train yourself to actually become a hero you'd like to be instead of playing one on World of Warcraft or some tabletop role playing game.  How cool would it be to actually be able to throw some punches in addition to playing a monk in Dungeons and Dragons?  Here are some martial arts to consider.

Kendo is the Japanese form of fencing.  You use kattanas (samurai swords) for one man competitions and bokens (bamboo swords) for duels and practice.  Though it doesn't have real world practicality in self defense, it's a very geek friendly form of athletics.  Finding a dojo and sensei can be hard though.

Muay-Thai Kickboxing is the Thai form of kick boxing.  An extremely good way to get in shape and very practical in self defense.  Anyone that's seen any of the Tony Jaa movies can see why this appeals to geeks.

Fencing is sword fighting.  If you decide to try this out I'd recommend saber fencing.  Saber fencing you can slash and stab.  In the other forms of fencing you're only allowed to stab.  Again, real world practicality isn't present here but still a fun sport to be involved in.

The caber toss.
Highland Games
What could be more geek friendly then highlander games?  No, I'm not talking about cutting each other's heads off with swords.  I'm talking about the traditional festivals that celebrate Scottish and Celtic heritage.  Part of the games are what is called the Heavy Events.  The heavy events involves a lot of throwing of heavy objects.  It seems like it would require some serious strength training to prepare for but with the Celtic aspect of the celebration, it sure looks like it would be fun!  Plus, you get to wear a kilt!

Archery
Do I really need to explain why this would appeal to geeks?  You get to shoot a bow and arrow for crying out loud!  It may not require much in the way of aerobics but it does require some strength.

Outdoor Athletics and Snow Sports
Rock climbing is a great way to build strength and is really fun.  Hiking has a broad range of difficulty levels and is always a good workout.  Snow Sports like skiing or snowboarding build strength in the legs and can be good exercise.  Any geek that loves the landscapes of Skyrim will appreciate the views that come from reaching heights on the mountainside.

Leaving the Comfort Zone
A lot of the stereotypical geeks often have a comfort zone they just don't want to leave.  They don't want to meet new people.  They already know that they can't even connect with a lot of these sporty people in the first place.  They may connect athletics and sports to bad gym experiences growing up in elementary school.

The thing is, there are a ton more athletics and sports not mentioned here I think a lot of geeks can learn to enjoy.  What you get out of athletics and sports may mean simply having an open mind and being brave enough to walk outside your comfort zone.  Trust me, you may be surprised as to who you meet.
Here is a picture of me and my friend Charles aka Chuck.  I met Chuck through my roommate when he was down in Tempe, Arizona for clinicals for his nursing degree.  When I first met Chuck I thought he was the typical jock.  I heard him talking about sports and didn't think we'd have much to talk about.  Still, I decided to try and get to know him and showed him my artwork.  I discovered Chuck liked comic books!  This athletic guy loved a lot of the Marvel comics that I did--and in some ways more so.  Since that point we became really good friends.

Athletics may seem like the last place you'd think to make new friends or find a new interest.  Don't let that stop you from trying something new.  After all, why only pretend to be a warrior on the computer screen when you can also be one in real life?

-Stephen

Photo Credits

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Legend of Korra review

Avatar: the Last Airbender is widely considered to be one of the best cartoons of the last ten years. The thing took the epic storytelling and animation of Japanese cartoons and combined them with the American ability to write a plot that makes sense. Characters colorful enough for kids but deep enough for adults made us fall in love with an intriguing world of Asian fantasy. With something this popular it's inevatable that someone will try to milk it for even more money and fame after it's ending. Avatar took a hit when Shaymalan created a disastrous live action movie that nearly ended the franchise on it's own, so when it was announced that a new series was in the works I cringed as visions of Land Before Time films flashed through my mind. Then the marketing machine started up, baiting us with images and story ideas that turned me and my friends into slavering fans months before the premier. Probably their most brilliant ploy was saying that if they could get 100,000 likes by last week they would release the first two episodes early. Thanks to the fans, including this site, we got it. So, was it worth the hype?
Yes, yes it was.
The story takes place 70 some odd years after the first, and Avatar Aang has passed away. The Order of the White Lotus has given up the secret society label in exchange for being some sort of Avatar training league and find Korra, the new Avatar. Korra quickly masters the first three elements, her native water as well as earth and fire, but is told that that she can't begin training on air because the world's only airbending master, Aang's son Tenzin has work to do in the unstable Republic City. Korra isn't one who appreciates being told what to do, sneaks on to a boat with her bear-dog,  and they head to the Steampunk paradise.  She ends up getting arrested by Toff's daughter and is brought to Tenzin, who decides to teach her air bending in on his island outside Republic City. Korra's hot temper and wild spirit make airbending training difficult though, so she ends up joining the hot new sport Pro Bending, much to Tenzin's dismay.
I know the summary sounds incomplete, but this is just the first two episodes. Legend of Korra is going to be one of those epic dramas with a story line that spans multiple seasons. This is reminiscent of the first series, especially after the second season. The preview definitely got me hooked on this thing. The music is great, the characters are even more well rounded then the first series, and the animation is spectacular. This is a must see for fans of the original and new comers alike. Check it out ASAP!
-JOE

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Courageous - Doesn't Let Go of the Wheel

Courageous. Such a powerful word in my eyes.  I remember listening to the radio station K-LOVE and hearing a song called "Courageous" and then hearing about how it was from a movie that was also named Courageous.  Seeing as how K-LOVE is a christian rock station, I assumed the movie would be some kind of cheesy seminary-like video (not that I have anything against the seminary videos).  This week, I was having 'bro' night with one of my little brothers when he pushed the DVD for Courageous toward me and said I should watch it.

After watching the movie, I found my initial assumption was quite wrong.

Courageous is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story about four male police officers and their lives as husbands and fathers.  The movie was very well done.  There was action, heartache, and good, clean humor.  I don't remember a single coarse word spoken or a single bit of sexual innuendo.  Other than some gang related violence (quite mild compared to anything but a Disney movie), the movie is very clean.  Definitely a movie that falls into the 'virtuous, lovely, and of good report' category while still being entertaining.  The messages that the movie delivered were beautiful.  At least once, it felt like the message delivery felt a little odd to me.  Only one scene of the movie made me think 'cheesy'.  Overall, a great quality movie.

Courageous is rated PG-13 (which honestly shocked me, although it probably is too intense for young children) for violence and some drug content.

In summary, Courageous is a refreshingly clean movie with an incredible story about stepping up and doing what's right.  I would give the movie a A rating.  I highly recommend watching this movie.  If you're wondering what the "Doesn't Let Go of the Wheel" part of the title means, watch the first few minutes of the movie.  Everything will make sense after that.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Colors of Magic


Magic was what turned me from nerd to geek. Not sure that there's a preference here. I'm still a word nerd / grammar Nazi . . . I mean . . . guru. But Magic crossed me into the world of gaming. And I'm probably going to mention it in many posts. One key thing about Magic is it has five colors that a Planeswalker (player) can tap into for mana (the power to cast spells).

So, you have an easy reference for the five colors at the beginning of this post, with their awesome symbols. Time to do geek out some life comparisons: color by color.

White: The main values for white are (from the Wizards of the Coast site) Order, protection, light, and law. A person who likes to have things in order (maybe not to the extend of Sheldon Cooper's OCD), someone who is always wanting to help and/or rescue, someone with humility and innocence, and someone obedient.

To add a religious side to this, this would fulfill Christ's wish for us to "be like little children." (Not sure on exact wording, but you get the point, I hope.) Our Savior would be the ultimate person classified in this color. Little children, in my opinion would also have these attributes, in general. Me? Oh, this is definitely not my color.

Blue: Knowledge, manipulation, wind, and wave make up blue's tools. Deceit, intellect, and control are also terms that fit with blue. Now, I don't like "manipulation" and "deceit" in their raw negative forms. But, unfortunately, I gotta say that politicians and car salesmen probably bleed Magic's blue.

To me, a Magic blue person would know what it is he or she wants and will do what they can to get it. I see blue as determined. "Blue" people would also use their knowledge to their advantage. And since it's supposed to be an ally color with white, I can see how blue would use its knowledge to help and protect. In contrast, blue's other ally is selfish. So blue can use its knowledge for personal gain.

I see "blue" as the most dangerous color, in one aspect, because that personality can be used for good or for evil.Link

Black: death, ambition, and darkness make up black's traits. Ambition is one thing that I find so key to black. Ambition alone isn't a bad thing. But when mixed with darkness, it means that the person will stop at nothing to achieve greedy and/or selfish goals. For me, ambition can be such a horrible thing.

There's nothing wrong with having goals and dreams that you want to make come true. And Linkthere's nothing wrong with finding ways to achieve those goals. But a Magic black personality will harm others in the name of the goal. White would rather lose. And blue, well, it depends on how dark the blue is.

Red: our attributes for red are freedom, fire, and impulse. There's something about a fiery spirit that can be destructive or assist in growth. I like the phrase "lighting a fire under someone" or its kin. This can go horribly negative like pissing off a redhead. When those Irish roots go blazing....beware.

I like that red has a "freedom" attribute. I see Magic red people as those who would fight for themselves and fight for others. The impulse to take action, to drop safety in favor of destruction, is something only someone with a fiery attitude can do.

Green: The values of green are strength, ferocity, and life. Strength doesn't just mean an ability to overcome an opponent, but the capacity to stand one's ground. Ferocity doesn't just mean putting fear into someone, but to tap into one's spirit in order to accomplish a task. And life doesn't just mean breathing, but growth: physically and metaphorically.

Those with a Magic green personality use their physical prowess for good, whether their own good or the good of those they're asked to protect. Green people (no, not martians) are ones who you don't want to piss off and want battling with you.

So, there you have it. There is more to dissect here, such as blending the colors. But that's for another post. In order, the colors are between their allies. White and blue are allies. Blue and black are allies. All the way back to green and white being allied. Conversely, skip a color and you've got enemy colors. White and black are enemies. Blue and red are enemies. So forth down to green and blue being enemy colors. Again, this will be a discussion for a later date.

Note: in the Magic cards on the right, you'll notice my mana symbols are enemy colors. Why? That's for another post.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hunger Games finds its Mark

Ah, the Hunger Games.  I remember when I read the first book I stayed up until 4 in the morning to read it.  Now I'm staying up late to express my own opinion on the film adaption before it is altered by another's point of view.  Keep in mind that no movie will ever match my vision of the book--unless I had all the money in the world and was directing it.  This review will look at this film and try not to compare it to experience of reading the book.

For those of you unfamiliar with the book and movie, the story is about a future world where a new country has formed from the United States known as Panem.  Panem once comprised of 13 different districts.  These 13 different districts caused a civil war.  District 13 was destroyed and the Capitol of Panem initiated the 1st annual Hunger Games as a way to control the districts and stop them from thinking of rebellion.  Each district sends one boy and one girl tribute to compete in the Hunger Games--a fight to the death.  The story centers on Katniss Everdeen of District 12 who has volunteered as tribute to save her sister from the reaping--lottery to determine tributes.  Katniss must quickly learn to survive before she even enters the arena for the Hunger Games.  The movie opens with a brief commentary on the Hunger Games from the character Caesar Flickerman before going right into Katniss' story.  

The film editing throughout the film is quick and has a strong sense of realism.  This works excellently for the story of the film.  It quickly builds the tension of knowing that these 12 to 18 year old kids will be forced to kill one another in an arena.  

The violence is also realistic while remaining appropriate for it's PG-13 rating.  What is great about the depiction of the violence is that it isn't action packed.   A big theme of the story is how we as a culture glorify violence.  Here, it has such a strong sense of realism and steps away from being entertaining that the message really hits home.

The content is definitely PG-13 and meant to disturb.  In addition to the violence, there are a few minor swear words in the movie.  I wouldn't take anyone younger then 12 to see this movie.

The acting in this movie is spot on.  The cast steps into their characters wonderfully.  Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Katniss.  She looks and plays the part perfectly.  Really, everyone here did a great job.  Even newcomer, Lenny Kravitz, has good chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence and is believable in his compassion for Katniss.

I do feel like the relationship of the characters weren't given quite enough screen time.  Katniss' relationship to Peeta is supposed to be complicated but it was difficult to see her feelings for him.  Granted, she isn't supposed to know how she feels about him for most of the story.  Despite that, I really feel like the chemistry between her and Peeta could have been a little better.

Overall, I found the movie to be a solid adaption and faithful the spirit of the book.  Wether you're a fan of the book or not, I would definitely recommend the Hunger Games.
Consensus: The Hunger Games is a taut story of survival.  Though it could benefit with better relationship development it's central message hits home to the viewer. B
-Stephen

Dark Shadows disappointment

So for those who aren't keenly aware of what went on in the 60's and 70's outside of Star Wars, once upon a time there was a cheesy little soap opera called Dark Shadows. The whole thing was unique for it's time because it dealt with problems like ghosts, zombies, witches and vampires.It was like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a more serious tone, coupled with the cheesyness of 60s to 70s acting and set design. It's a fun little cult classic that's worth a gander if your into that sort of thing.

Now come back to 2012, where no intellectual property is sacred and any old franchise can be hauled out of it's tomb and squeezed for whatever money can yet be made off it, and we can see Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's latest trailer for Dark Shadows the movie. We've been getting hints that they were doing it since last year, with Depp playing the infamous vampire Barnabas Collins (Let's just get this out of the way: Bla bla bla Twilight reference bla bla bla). The issue here though is that the trailer looks like a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Austin Powers. Whatever seriousness that the franchise had has been forcibly removed like an 1820's dentist/blacksmith on a molar. To make things worse the trailer features a drawn out supernatural sex scene in a garish 70's apartment. Depp seems to have settled into his usual Burton role, which is basically the same role except with different lines.
Now don't get me wrong, I love Burton/Depp movies, but they often feel like I'm just watching the same movie. Over-the-top characters and scenery with little to no connectivity to whatever his subject matter is, it feels like I'm watching alternate realities of the same people. Maybe I wouldn't mind this so much if I wasn't already familiar with Dark Shadow's source material, but between this and that abomination calling itself a Stooges movie coming out soon, I don't have much hope for this year's comedies.
-JOE

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A drop in standards

The last thing I would ever consider myself is a prude, especially when it comes to movies. I grew up in a non-LDS household in which I was exposed to plenty of rated R movies filled with all sorts of interesting content.I've also spent the last two years as a film critic for Salt Lake Community College, where I could see anything from the latest Disney film to an unfortunate piece of anti-Mormon cinema I had to sit through. Open mind aside, it doesn't mean I want every piece of my entertainment to contain blood gore and sex. One of my favorite shows is Avatar the Last Airbender, and I echo T.J. with loving Batman the Animated Series. Sadly it's become harder and harder to find places to get that, and I'm very grieved to report that yet another source has fallen to this.
Howitshouldhaveended.com has been one of my favorite websites for years. The creators are famous for making cartoon parodies of popular films, and showing how sometimes the endings just don't make sense, like why in Harry Potter they didn't just use the time turner to go back in time and save people? Or why Mystique joins Magneto in X-Men: First Class? They didn't just do family movies either. Saw, Jaws, Black Swan, and a few other R titles make their parody list, and the best part is that no matter how dirty the film is they never swear or do anything questionable in their videos.
Till now.
I decided to see what they had done lately and found a parody of Pulp Fiction. Now as far as R movies go, Pulp Fiction is probably the R-iest, having drugs, sex, profanity, and blood everywhere. A masterpiece in storytelling, it's still not something I wouldn't recommend to everyone. I was surprised though to see that one of the R parts made it into the website's video. It wasn't even that funny or really had anything to do with the film, just some little messed up piece Quentin Taratino had added to emphasis the importance of something else, and yet there it was on Howitshouldhaveended.com, my once safe website, for all to see. I was highly disappointed.
As my first paragraph said, I'm pretty open minded, so I'm not suggesting a boycott on it or some sort of write-in to make them remove the video. My feeling is that if I'm free to say something then someone else should be free to say the opposite, but it's just disappointing to see something that I could have easily shown to my 3 year old niece turn into yet another thing I have to filter or forget about altogether. And it just goes to show how lacking clean entertainment is in this world, especially since that which is clean seems to want to take a more "edgy" turn in order for...what? More of a fanbase? Does crossing the line from clean to dirty really draw in that many more viewers? Like I said, I've been a fan for years when it was clean, so why change it?
What do you think?
-JOE

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Average Ordinary Everyday Superhero



I gotta say, if I could be a superhero, I would. And I'd definitely be Batman. Why? Well, that's another post.

I want to compare and contrast my comic book superhero to two superheroes in my life.

As I said, I'd be Batman if I could. He was my childhood superhero. And not the dark Batman that is so popular of late. No, not the semi-dark animated series. I'm going for Little T.J.'s love for the 1960s Adam West Nana nana Nana nana BATMAN! Kapow! He was so cool!

Batman could be near death and suddenly find a way out. I mean, of course he would, it was in the script. But still, that is the Batman that I hero-worshiped as a child. He was able to rescue anyone from anything.

On the real side, my childhood hero was my oldest brother. Why? I thought he could do anything and that he knew everything. (Boy, was I wrong.) But there was admiration and respect that has adjusted (really I'm not as naive). He would carry me everywhere either on piggyback or on his shoulders. (Wow, the thought of attempting such a feet seems impossible now.)

I figuratively worshiped the ground my oldest brother walked on. He was and is one of the kindest people I've ever met. He is willing to help out in whatever manner he can if someone is in a bind. He is an example of a real life hero to me because it's not the extraordinary things he does, it's the things that I wouldn't think to do that he makes look so ordinary for him.

Going back to Batman. As I've watched the animated series, the 1980s-1990s movie series, and the revamped movies (sadly, I've still not seen The Dark Knight), I've learned how Batman is such a real person. He's broken for so many reasons, it's hard to start with one. But orphaned as a child (yeah, poor little rich kid loses Mommy and Daddy, raised by a butler. Think that would happen today? Fat chance.) Batman always had character flaws. A couple of them were being too forgiving and too caring. Okay, honestly, those aren't flaws in my judgments. I'd rather lose and forgive than win and only have my pride.

A different hero that I look up to is my dad. Figuratively, "Dad" is the common hero for every little boy. I feel grateful that I have such a great relationship with my dad. I have friends who seem to have strained (or non-existent) relationships with their dads. But I am definitely lucky to have a great dad. And I hope to be just as good of a dad to my children as he was to me.

My dad has gone through a lot in his life. He had a pretty bad work accident that injured his back shortly after I was born. He was the non-traditional stay-at-home dad until I was about 7 or 8. Growing up, I thought there wasn't anything my dad couldn't fix or didn't know. If he had a better reaction time, he could've been on Jeopardy. My dad did everything to make sure my mom was happy. And when she passed almost 10 years ago, he was able to live his life and move on.

In the end, my dad is just awesome. As a father, I hope I can be 1/2 as awesome as my dad. So when my son says to me "You're the best daddy ever" and melts my heart, I better do my best to live up to that belief.

Well, guess that's all I have about average ordinary everyday superheroes.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are schedule

Avacyn Restored Trailer

I totally agree with T.J.'s post about Magic the Gathering. In honor of that I'm posting a link to the new Avacyn Restored trailer. I've honestly never seen Wizards of the Coast make such a beautiful advertisement for one of their new sets. Needless to say I am waiting on pins and needles for the release. Enjoy

-JOE

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Keeping Standards and Being a Geek

Sometimes we are asked to give up really creative
stuff in order to be a better follower of the Savior.
Being a Geek and being Mormon is not always easy.  We as geeks love the really thought provoking stuff.  I love comic books that twist your mind with its intriguing plot, symbols, and story elements.  I love hearing about new ideas and stepping into new and crazy worlds.  The problem with many of these works (whether it be film, comics, video games, or television) is that they can be offensive to the spirit.

I'm not going to tell you how to set your standards on this blog or what you shouldn't be reading/watching/playing.  That's between you and the spirit.  But I will share my experience in trying to follow the spirit in my choice of what geeky entertainment I participate in.

A year or two ago I was reading a very clever comic.  It was a story about how an epidemic spread through the entire world and killed off every living creature with the Y chromosome with the exception of one man and his pet monkey.  The story of this man and his journey to save the human race was grade A brilliant.  Everything about the story would be a critics dream come true.  The characters were interesting and complicated.  The plot was very intriguing and the dystopian future created made you think (in a really good way) about the aspects of gender.  When there's so many comics out there that are filled with fluff and not all that original.  This gem was original and expanded imaginative thought.

But I stopped reading this intelligent comic book series.  Why?  Because it was pretty vile stuff.  There seemed to be hard swear words in every other speech bubble.  If that wasn't enough, there was certainly a lot of explicit sexuality.  I felt uncomfortable reading the comic and didn't feel the spirit like I used to.

I made my decision to stop reading the book.  I was sad because I respected the author for his deep creativity and wished he would have been more sensitive to the standards of the spirit in his storytelling.  Despite my sadness at having to let go of some sharp writing, I was glad I made the decision wanting to be closer to my Heavenly Father.


Then something really cool happened.  My roommate introduced me to a show he really enjoyed called Avatar: The Last Airbender.  We started getting other young single adults to join us for Avatar nights and I quickly became a fan of the show.  I soon completely forgot about the intelligent sci fi comic book I once had and was immersed in this imaginative and authentic fantasy cartoon.  Avatar had complex characters, fluid animation, great action, and a very heartfelt story.  The best part was, I could feel the spirit when I watched the show and didn't feel guilty for watching it.

I learned that you can have your cake and eat it too.  There are brilliant works of entertainment out there.  The challenge of being a Geek is you have to have your standards of good storytelling and also your standards of the gospel.  A lot of times you can find a great story but told with explicit immorality.  Then you try digging through mainstream wholesome stuff but only find over-idealized stories with two dimensional characters, predictable plots, and dialogue that makes you want to vomit.

Finding the well-written and well-thought stuff is hard to do but not impossible.  A lot of times, it requires having an open mind and looking where you would not expect to find what you want.  Avatar: The Last Airbender is technically a kid's show but has themes that only adults can fully comprehend.  I think it also means supporting these stories more then we would others.  Nasty movies get so much money because people pour money into it.  Studios then send money to filmmakers who want to make a nasty show.  If we invest in the good stuff then we'll get more good stuff.  (In other words, tune into Nickelodean on April 16th to watch the new 'Airbender' spin-off series, The Legend of Korra!)


I also think this means that we should support more members of the church going into creative fields.  Too often we give Art majors, Theater majors, Film majors, and Animation majors a hard time for going into such a competitive and worldly field.  Really, we should support these people for wanting to be a positive change for culture and being brave enough to face the challenges that brings.  I know I for one, would love to see more stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender out there.  Wouldn't you?

In conclusion, being a geek and being Mormon are two worlds that can harmoniously coexist.  The challenge of keeping your standards can be difficult but not impossible when you trust your Heavenly Father and show support for stuff that is good.

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

-Stephen

Monday, March 19, 2012

Magic: The Gathering

Hi, I'm T.J. I've been adopted as the 4th blogger for Mormon Geeks, and, in my judgment, the least qualified to be called "geek" in comparison to my 3 cohorts. Also, I've dubbed us "The Four Planeswalkers of Geekdom." Let me reintroduce you to all of us.



By the way, I'm a pretty big fan of playing Magic: The Gathering. And that is what this post will be about.

I've heard many criticisms by people of faith (irregardless of what denomination that is) referring to things like Harry Potter and Twilight as "of the devil." From what I understand, if it's not canonized, we should NOT be reading/watching it. What a boring life these people must lead. And how much you wanna bet their lives aren't that great anyway.

This post is actually about something else: Magic: The Gathering. When my older brother started playing this game with his friend, my mom got worried, thinking that it was dark magic and they were joining some Wiccan cult. (I kid you not.) She got even more worried when I expressed interest in learning how to play. Less than a year later my brother and I both fell away (from Magic, not from our faith). Thankfully, about 10 years later, this same brother rehooked me to the joy of Magic.



Magic isn't about worshiping the devil. It isn't about incantations or rituals. It's about taking a bunch of cards and finding a way to beat an opponent. You have to use strategy and creativity while being patient in order to win. Not only that, but Magic is a really social game.

Okay, to be honest, most of the Magic I play is against a computer in the comfort of my living room (at 3 in the morning when my 2-year-old has decided it's time to watch Cars 2). But I enjoy it best when I'm playing against somebody else, even if I'm losing. And believe me when I say that I am a very poor sport. I hate losing. But somehow, when I'm losing at Magic, some of the time I just enjoy being "killed" in the game.

So, besides building social skills, Magic also teaches strategy. Magic describes itself as a game that has over 10,000 pieces you can choose from (if you have the money, sadly enough.) But at the same time, there are various strategies for various types of gameplay. You can build a deck of 100 cards that cannot have duplicates. You can open a new booster pack and play. You can open a few and build a deck for a sealed tournament. Or you can just build a traditional 60-card deck. Each of these forms of gameplay require different thought processes. You can't use the same ideas from one game to the next. You also need to react to your opponents' various decks differently.

It teaches patience (which I still lack, but it's given me some, which is more than I had). But there is patience in waiting for your turn. Patience in playing the right cards at the right time. Patience in losing (something I'm still working on, duh.) If I recall properly, patience is a heavenly virtue we could all use a little more of.

Magic induces creativity in a player's need to look for combinations between two distinct cards. One creature may seem useless by itself, but with an enchantment or sorcery it could be so powerful that your opponent cringes in response.

So, in the end: Magic: The Gathering is not of the devil. It is not a cult nor is it an occult. It does not teach anyone to worship the Planeswalker Urza or anything along those lines. It is a game. Plain and simple. Okay, not really simple, but it is still just a game.

By the way, all my blog posts on the other blogs I write for end the same way. I see no reason to break my signature now.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

The wisdom of Guinan

Star Trek The Next Generation has given us some truly beloved characters. One of my personal favorites is the bar tender Guinan. Whoopie Goldberg grew up watching Star Trek as a child and saw Uhura as a role model, and thus begged the producers to let her be in the show, even if it was just sweeping the floor in the background. They decided to turn the celebrity into the wizened 700 year old bartender, and make her a council to Picard. Even though she played a relatively minor role throughout the series, her scenes were always memorable as she added a unique sense of quiet charm to the role. Here are some of her most memorable quotes from the series with special thanks to imdb.com for providing the references.




That's the wonderful thing about crayons. They can take you to more places than a starship.

If you are going to use this person to destroy his race, you should at least look him in the eye once, before you do it.

Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: [about Ensign Ro] She doesn't belong here. She doesn't even belong in the uniform, as far as I'm concerned.
Guinan: Really?
Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Really.
Guinan: Sounds like someone I'd like to know.

Guinan: I was thinking how you said the other day that my foil was dipping. That I should get some exercise and strengthen my arm.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Well, a strong forearm is certainly an advantage in fencing.
Guinan: And bartending.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: It is what it is. And in spite of efforts to turn it into some kind of pet, I will not alter my plans.
Guinan: Fine. But if you don't talk to him at least once, you may find that decision a lot harder to live with than you realize.

Ensign Ro Laren: Well... it's all true.
Guinan: I believe truth is in the eye of the beholder.
Ensign Ro Laren: Isn't that supposed to be... beauty?
Guinan: Truth, beauty - works for a lot of things.

Ensign Ro Laren: Seems like everybody's just pulling my strings, you know, like I've got no control.
Guinan: Hm... For people like you and me, who've lost their homes, sometimes that's the way life feels.

Some may argue that a diamond is still a diamond, even if it is one amongst millions. It still shines as brightly.

A mother shapes her child in ways she doesn't even realize. Sometimes just by listening.

Just because a girl runs out doesn't mean she doesn't wish you to follow.

When a man is convinced he's going to die tomorrow, he'll probably find a way to make it happen. The only one who can turn this around is you.

You know, sooner or later, everyone comes in here. And they stand by those windows and they look out and they stare. And they're looking for that little star they call home. Doesn't matter how far away it is. Everybody... looks anyway.

When the Borg destroyed my world, my people were scattered throughout the universe. We survived - as will humanity survive. As long as there's a handful of you to keep the spirit alive, you will prevail - even if it takes a millennium.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Video Games On The Radar 16Mar2012

Here is a brief post from me on what games I plan on frying my brain on playing over the weekend.  Sometimes I'm able to glean some spiritual insights from games.  Let's see if I can come up with any from the ones I plan on playing.

Skyrim

Skyrim is a game that took awhile to grab my attention.  I tend to enjoy playing a mage style character.  The first few hours of the game were difficult for me (reminded me a lot of playing a mage-style character on Oblivion).  After unlocking a certain 'perk' in the game, the game became easier.  Recently, I started giving my character some special gear and it's become almost ridiculously easy.  Maybe I'm just a bit over-leveled, or perhaps throwing around fireballs practically at will is just that powerful.

My first impression of Skyrim was that it was very beautiful.  The terrain in the game is very natural and I feel like the developers took a lot of effort to make the environment seem very realistic.  I've found after playing the game that I tend to pay a whole lot more attention to the environment around me.  Where I live, there is a very beautiful mountain range nearby.  I remember thinking once that the mountains had the best texture I'd ever seen before, only to realize I was looking at a actual mountains (that could probably be seen as an argument that video game players can't distinguish between the real world and games).  I've also noticed since playing the game that I've become a lot more aware of how things look around me, and the natural beauty that the world has.  I seem to appreciate and admire Heavenly Father's handiwork a lot more now.

One aspect of Skyrim that I enjoy is the fact that the characters tend to get better at what they work on.  It's a game playing feature that got me hooked on Wizardry 7 back in the game (a much older game).  Obviously in real life, I get better at things I practice.  One thing they are missing in Skyrim is skill degradation (which would annoy me as a player).  If I'm not practicing something, I tend to get worse at it.

That aside, Skyrim is a very engaging game.  I would place cautions around the language in the game, immodesty, and especially around the violence in the game.  There are some areas of the game that can have some gory/disturbing imagery.

Final Fantasy X

I know this is an older game, but a dear friend lent it to me, and it's one I've always wanted to play.  The Sphere leveling system has me hooked as well as the plot line of the game.  The ability to mold any character as I please is very interesting for me.  For all but one of the characters, I've been following the 'set' path more or less.

The plot line seems to revolve around one character trying to decide between doing what is best for them, and what is apparently best for the rest of the world.  I can't say a whole lot more because A) I haven't finished the game and B) I don't want to spoil anything.  The story has been pretty heart wrenching and shocking so far.

The warnings I would place for this came would be for some language and immodesty.  Overall, a relatively clean game.

World of Warcraft

In some ways, an old standby of mine.  I first started playing it in college when two of my room mate started playing.  I've been hooked on and off ever since.  Overall, probably not one of my favorite games, but the social aspect of the game can make it very addicting.  One thing that appeals to me about the game is that there seems to be a near endless supply of things to do.  Always more quests to do, places to explore, dungeons to delve, or achievements to reach for.  In my experience, it can be either a fun experience with friends or a mindless time sink.  Most of the time, the game can be very 'ho-hum' or regular.  It's the moments when things get mixed up that make the game more exciting.  Some of the later game content can be a lot of fun, but typically requires a team of 10 or 25 players to experience.

Finding a spiritual insight for this game is a bit of a stretch.  I guess the concept of each person having a set role to perform can be seen.  Each character excels at a certain niche in the game.  Another could be the concept of being able to be flexible and performing your best for the good of the team (a lot of the later game content requires teamwork).  Another insight I could see is that there is always work to do or improvements that can be made in my life.

Those are the planned games for the weekend.  I may end up dabbling with other games.  I've been itching to play Batman: Arkham City for awhile and I just got a copy of Final Fantasy XIII.  There's also been some updates to Terraria that I haven't played with yet.  Oh well, too many games and too little time, I guess.

The Return of Darth Maul-oh come on!

Say what you want to about Star Wars: Episode 1, at least Darth Maul was cool. Albeit I was a kid when the film came out, and my understanding of Star Wars was that space is cool and Vader is a bad guy, but I still stand to this day in the belief that Maul was at least a cool little villain they threw in.
Here he is, this brooding Satan looking guy in his black robes with his wanna-be TIE fighter and his little motorcycle thing being all cool and silent as he messes with the Jedi. Then he shows up, busts out this two sided lightsaber and starts kicking trash. Then we all know what happens next, he kills Qui-Gon and Obi Wan chops him in half, then throws his body down a big metal hole that's only purpose seems to be to climax that one fight. Then we never hear from him again.
Until now.
The Star Wars: Clone Wars series has decided that it'd be cool to bring him back, only this time it seems that instead of being the creepy silent villain he's going to spout every cliche'd line from every villain that ever made an appearance on Rocky and Bullwinkle. You may ask "But how could he come back if they chopped him in half and threw him down a pit?" Well, remember how they cut off Luke's hand and replaced it with android parts? Apparently they can do that with someone's entire midsection. Can't save a woman dying in child birth, but they can completely replace someone's digestive tract and legs without batting an eye. So this begs several questions:
If they could fix Maul why didn't they fix Qui-Gon?
WHY would they fix Maul?
Who would fix Maul, since part of the fluff indicates that his former master Palpatine had nothing to do with him after?
And most importantly, who in their right minds would look at this and think it's a good idea?
Thoughts?
-JOE

Thursday, March 15, 2012

John Carter is a Fun Trip

It should be noted that John Carter is actually the 2nd movie to come out this year that is a first live action movie by an animation director.  The first was Mission Impossible 4 which was directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) and quite possibly the best entry to the series.  Andrew Stanton makes his live action debut to see if he can keep up the pace that Brad Bird set.  The results are not necessarily the same popcorn fun as Mission Impossible 4 but a still satisfying epic.

The movie starts off on the planet Mars with a voice over from the amazingly talented Willem Dafoe.  There are two rival kingdoms, Zodanga and Helium, that are in a heated struggle to take control of Mars or Barsoom as the locals call it.  Celestial humanoid creatures called Therns interrupt a battle to make a deal with the king of the Zodanga kingdom.  Essentially he's a bad guy and is now being manipulated by other bad guys.
John Carter is somehow teleported to the planet Barsoom.

After our little introduction to Barsoom we are transported back to earth where we are introduced to an archaeologist type of adventurer known as John Carter.  John is a civil war veteran and fought for the Confederate States of America.  His apparent death has come upon his nephew Ned.  Ned has inherited everything his Uncle had but the clue to his mysterious death is only left in the diary left to him.  The story really begins as John narrates the story of how he was transported to Barsoom and his adventure on Mars.

The world translated to screen by Andrew Stanton is much more fantasy then it is Science Fiction.  The science portrayed of different gravitational fields and tiny machines is quite the stretch.  Still, we have a civil war veteran on Mars.  Our imaginations at this point are so stretched who cares if there's any validity to what's being shown on screen?  The elements seem to follow it's own rules it sets so no complaints there.

The visuals here are quite beautiful. The character design is interesting and true to the book it is based on from what I understand. Andrew Stanton is a big fan of the books so it's only to be expected. I particularly liked the effects of the 9th Ray technology.
Really great action sequences albeit unrealistic.

The acting is okay. The king of Zodanga is pretty lame. He feels like a copied and pasted 2 dimensional bad guy and could have been a much more interesting character. I would have liked him more if there was something driving his “villiany” or if he was actually a nice guy that was just being deceived. The other antagonists, the Therns, are so unemotional I can't help but feel like they're supposed to be that way. Lynne Collins is lovely and interesting as the princess Dejah. Taylor Kitsch is a mixed bag. His expressions of surprise are great but I felt like he could have brought more emotional resonance to the flashbacks of John Carter's deceased wife and child.  Still, we get the feeling that John Carter has been hardened from both the civil war and the death of his family.

One of the surprising highlights of the film was definitely the film editing. Andrew Stanton really outdid himself in certain scenes to engage the viewer. Periodically we have flashbacks to John Carter's life on earth and his family before they were killed. The way these scenes are cut are both artistic and effective.

The movie does suffer from some incomprehensible story elements.  You have these Therns that are all about controlling Barsoom, want to overlook it's destruction, and then overlook the destruction of earth.  Pretty simple to follow, right?  Well mid movie there's more to it then that.  Apparently these Therns don't want Carter or his girlfriend to know about this certain technology that isn't explained fully well.  It distracts from the story and slows things down.


A lot of critics will also tell you it has uneven pacing.  I'd say that the pacing actually is pretty good the story just doesn't flow from one point to another as well as it could.  I didn't lose interest or get bored while watching this.  I did however get confused at certain parts of the story wondering how much time had passed and what not.  Still, any invested audience member willing to pay attention can look over these flaws.
John Carter was filmed in a studio in London and also in the Utah desert.
Now since this is a blog run by Mormons I'll briefly talk about content.  John Carter is PG-13.  It has a lot of swashbuckling swordsmanship violence with minimal amounts of blue blood.  (All the natives of Mars have blue blood.  John's blood is red.)  There are few wholesome innocent references to sexuality that will go over the heads of kids.  There were probably one or two minor swear words.  Some parts would be scary for little kids. Really a good and safe flick.  I'd say 10 years and up is good for this one.


Looking back, I feel like John Carter is a mediocre science fiction adventure held by impressive film editing, imaginative characters, and nostalgia. So why did I like it so much? Was it because it was imaginative? Did I find the story interesting? Really, I think it's a decent movie that brings something new to the table.  I wouldn't say it's the best movie in the world but it certainly deserves better then it's tomato score.
Consensus: John Carter is an imaginative epic that is entertaining despite being slowed down by story elements.  B-   



-Stephen

The Legend of Korra

I loved Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the thought of this coming out next month fills my little heart with glee. The creators are saying that they'll be aiming for a slightly older audience then the last one, so it'll be interesting to  see just how deep character development will get.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAnB_LVbTzo&feature=share

Great news on this! If Korra Nation get's 100,000 likes then they'll show the premier next week!
http://korranation.tumblr.com/
Let's make it happen people!
-JOE

Sucker Punch (Movie)

Last year, I had the privilege of experiencing the movie 'Sucker Punch'.  I have a hard time coming up with words to describe this movie, so perhaps referencing some other movies will help.

Imagine if Moulin Rouge and Inception had a child, Muppet Babies was the midwife and it all took place in the Matrix.  Somehow Alice In Wonderland was involved in the pregnancy. Yeah, something like that.

That analogy aside, I highly enjoyed Sucker Punch.  It seemed to appease each and every last nerdy sense of mine:

  • The plot was somewhat complicated and had a twist ending.  
  • The multi-level nature of the main characters fantasies made it fun to follow.  
  • Nothing can really trump having to fight zombie robot steam-powered Nazi's with machine guns and katanas.
The main character and her friend were ninjas.  I think the only thing that was missing in the movie was pirates. 


That aside, in my opinion, Sucker Punch was a highly enjoyable movie.  As a word of caution, it is probably too intense for small children, young teenagers, or adults that are sensitive to violence and seeing zombie robot steam-powered Nazi's killed with swords.  As further caution, there is a pretty strong sub-theme of sensuality in the movie.  Finally, if you hate surprise endings or being 'sucker punched', I wouldn't recommend it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rurouni Kenshin movie

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lc_JmcRxdx8

Okay now admittedly I'm not really an anime fan. In fact I can probably count on one hand the number of anime shows I actually liked, but Rurouni Kenshin is probably at the top of that list. In a nutshell, the main character (Kenshin) was the deadliest man during Japan's civil war. He now lives a life of repentance as a rogue samurai. His katana is actually reversed, meaning that the cutting edge is dulled so he can still wield it but it doesn't kill people (Though a large chunk of metal smacking into someone probably still hurts). I hope this comes out in some form in the US, otherwise I'm taking a trip to Japan. :)
-JOE