Wednesday, May 17, 2017

He Likes to Be Asked

(This post was originally posted on my personal blog in October 2013)

This past week I finished up reading "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew".  So spoiler alert to anyone who hasn't read this (though it's been out for quite a few years now).

I mark up my Narnia books at times when I find a certain part particularly spiritually insightful. This time, the part I marked was during Diggory, Polly, and Fledge's quest to get the apple that would grow into a tree to protect Narnia from the Witch.

Polly, Diggory, and Fledge stop for the night and they realize they didn't have anything to eat for dinner. And this is the exchange that happened:

            “Well I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Diggory.
            “I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.
            “Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.
            “I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”

For those familiar with Narnia, you know that Aslan is representative of Christ (and at times of God). Knowing the wisdom and the character of Aslan, I'm sure Fledge was right and Aslan would have known to provide the trio with food. However, I think Fledge was also right in his second comment: Aslan likes to be asked. And I believe God is the same way.

The scriptures say, "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." (Matthew 6:8) And in the Bible Dictionary under prayer it says "The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them."

Sometimes I think that's what I'm doing wrong. I'm not asking for what I need. And accordingly, maybe I'm being too vague. I'm beginning to believe more and more that the more specifically I ask for blessings the more specifically the Lord can bless me (I wonder if there's a quote on that).

I guess the preliminary part to that is to know specifically what I need. It's something I've been working on in my interpersonal relationships already. What do I need from a friend? When I'm upset and I talk to a friend, do I need to release frustration or do I need advice? If I need a listening ear and my friend starts spouting advice, I just get more frustrated. And sometimes it takes a lot of introspection for me to know what I really need.

The same thing applies with God. What do I need from Him? Maybe that's why prayer and meditation often go together. Meditation helps me know what I need and prayer enables me to ask. It takes practice, getting myself to understand and tune in with myself to know what I need. But I can see how it has helped me, so I keep working on it.

I know that as I focus on my prayers and my relationship with my Heavenly Father I tend to be happier; I have bad days but I feel more firm. The more connected I feel to my Heavenly Father, the less I am "carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). When I have that connection, I feel safe and I feel loved, no matter what happens.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Spoiler-Free Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Review

So it’s been about 3-ish years since we last saw our bumbling band of misfits save Xandar from Ronan. When we last left them, they were off to do some grey-area-type stuff out in the galaxy. We also had the reveal from Nova Prime that Peter Quill is not 100% human. As usual, I will avoid spoilers, but if you have a super sensitivity to anything remotely spoiler-ish, feel free to check out of here and see the movie. I will recommend watching the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie beforehand, just to refresh your mind about Star Lord and his friends. Without further ado, I’m jumping in.

I liked how the movie tied up some loose ends from the first movie. We had hints of Peter Quill’s father scattered throughout the first movie, including Yondu mentioning that he was hired to take Peter to his father, Nova Prime calling his father something ancient, and Peter’s mother calling his father an angel. Assuming you’ve watched the trailers, you know that Star Lord Sr. appears in this movie. I haven’t read the comics, so I didn’t know much about this character, but he turned out a lot more complex and interesting than I first had thought.


The theme and tone on relationships throughout the movie were wonderful too. As much as these former/current criminals are crazy and emotionally unstable, I found myself able to relate to them (side note: is that bad that I relate to interplanetary criminals?). While my struggles may not have to do with killing people or stealing things, the deeper stuff going on with their characters makes them wonderfully relatable. I really felt for them as they figured out how they worked together as a crazy, dysfunctional family of sorts.

And of course the movie had wonderful comedic timing. Just like movie #1, this movie couldn’t take itself too seriously; I mean, we have a talking racoon and an angry little tree as main characters. Speaking of an angry little tree, baby Groot was likely my favorite character in the movie (though I did realllllllly like the character development of Star Lord). Everything baby Groot did on screen was adorable and wonderful, even when he was supposed to be scary. Added wonderfully to the comedy.

Even at his angriest, he's adorable.

The character development in this movie was wonderful. These characters have had some of the least attention, since they haven’t had the opportunity to team up with our other Marvel heroes (yet), but even just from some verbal backstory we’ve been able to see them grow and become better characters, over the course of only two movies. In addition, despite having so many characters in this movie, it felt very balanced to me. Everyone seemed to get decent screen time, which I’m sure helped with the character development.


So now that you’ve read this, get off your computer/tablet/phone/whatever and go watch the movie. Or at the very least go watch the first Guardians of the Galaxy to prepare yourself for this movie.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Doctor Who Review: "The Pilot"

A week ago we were blessed with some new Doctor Who after over a year without a new season. To be fair we had two Christmas specials in the meantime, but other than that we haven’t had any new Who since (spoiler alert) Clara and Ashildr flew off in that diner TARDIS. My roommate and I went to see the premiere “The Pilot” in theaters for a Fathom Events thing, so here with go with a little review. Obviously, spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen it yet, go to iTunes ASAP, since it is currently free. Go do it. Now.



Anyway, first off, I like the introduction to the episode. I felt like we got to see the episode from Bill’s perspective (to be clear, Bill is a girl; I’m not sure what it’s short for, with a girl, but Bill is a girl). Of course at this point we know who the Doctor is and we know Nardole. However, since the episode is from Bill’s perspective, this is an appropriate spot to start someone! While it wasn’t a very popular episode, this is kind of like the episode “Rose”, the very first episode of modern Who. In “Rose” we had Rose’s perspective as she got to know the Doctor and we learned about the Doctor along with Rose. Same with Bill in this episode. We learn about the Doctor alongside Bill. It’ll a great place to start a potential Whovian, especially since it would take watching 9 seasons to get caught up on modern Who.

Now specifically Bill. I was skeptical about this character after she was introduced in the season promo after the Christmas special. It just seems like ANOTHER young, peppy girl as a companion, instead of a unique character. After this episode, I’m cautiously optimistic. I was also worried when I heard she was going to be a lesbian, since my last major exposure to an LGBT character was Ruby and Dorothy in Once Upon a Time. That storyline just felt forced. However, Bill’s sexuality felt like a natural part of her character. Instead of being out of left field and unexpected, it felt like any other romantic involvement of a character.



I liked the pace of the episode too. Despite taking place over the course of months, it keeps plugging along. The back and forth between Bill and the Doctor is great. Bill keeps throwing a wrench into the Doctor’s clichés (took her forever to realize it was bigger on the inside). Just so much irony in her comments towards the Doctor about science fiction and everything. I liked it and it helped me warm up to her character. She’s not just a sassy young adult girl, like Amy or Clara.

Finally, there were a number of loose ends in this episode. I’m assuming they’ll be resolved, but you never know. I’m curious how long the Doctor has REALLY been at the university. He and Nardole seem to have been there for a while and they’ve been tutoring Bill for a while as well. Why did the Doctor come to the university? Why have he and Nardole been hanging out there for so long? Of all things though, I will be really disappointed if they don’t delve further into that vault they were guardians. Also, we saw the Doctor in a reflection in the picture of Bill’s mom. It seemed obvious to me that he went back to cause the ripple effect that Bill would have pictures, but at the very least I’d like them to acknowledge it.


What did you think of the Doctor Who Series 10 premiere? Any thoughts on Bill? What about thoughts on Nardole sticking around longer? I kind of like the idea of having TARDIS team again instead of just one companion.

PS: I loved the bouquet of sonic screwdrivers and the pictures of River and Susan.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beauty and the Beast 2017: Something There that Wasn't There Before

***Disclaimer: May contain spoilers for the new film**

The story of Beauty and the Beast has always held a special place for me. I remember watching it as a little boy and my imagination ran wild at the idea of an enchanted castle with objects that were alive. It became more special for me 10 years ago when I was lucky enough to play Lumiere as a senior in my last high school musical. Hearing any portion of the music today brings a smile to my face and many happy memories of childhood and high school.

When I heard that Disney would be producing a live-action version of this beloved fairy tale, I was super excited but very hesitant. I couldn't stand the thought of such a beloved story being produced at a level of quality that was less than stellar.

My expectations were high and I kept a close eye on the cast list as roles became official for many beloved actors. And as casting began to be finalized I was excited to see many favorites from other franchises as stars of the show. I was amused at the thought of young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor / Lumiere) and Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan / Cogsworth) working together to help Hermione Granger (Emma Watson / Belle) fall in love with Matthew Crawley from Downtown Abbey (Dan Stevens / Beast).

Even with high expectations and a rock star cast, I was nervous as I walked in to the theater last Friday. And while imperfect as all films are, the live action re-telling directed by Bill Condon delivers a modern masterpiece that preserves this incredible story for another generation.

While the plot largely remains the same, the storytelling itself is where this film stands apart from the animated film and Broadway play. The audience gets more insight into Belle's childhood and more is revealed about Belle's mother, and even the prince's upbringing and the circumstances that led him to turn the old woman away on his last night as a human.

What also stands apart is Emma Watson herself as Belle. Belle is "a beauty but a funny girl," but in addition to the qualities that anyone playing Belle can bring, Watson brings out a strong side of Belle that I haven't seen before and I found fitting and worthy of her character. In addition to her beauty, love of books, and general goodness, Belle is shown as an intelligent, progressive, independent woman ahead of her time. One of my favorite scenes in the new film is when Belle sits down with another girl much younger than her and teaches her how to read. With our increased understanding of Belle's and the Prince's parents, it is easier to see how this spunky farm girl from the heart of France can fall for a creature with two horns growing out of the side of his head.

While most who play Beast are able to portray the angry, brooding character well, I found that Dan Stevens brought a level of depth to the character that I also hadn't seen before. As Stevens sings a new song to the story "Evermore," I couldn't help but feel the longing in his voice and the love he was beginning to feel for Belle.

The show is supported by a strong cast of talented supporting actors and actresses; it tugged at the heartstrings as the last petal fell and these beloved characters one by one turned into objects. The most interesting and compelling addition of supporting actors was that of Agatha, the Enchantress, and her careful placement in key parts of the story.

After having seen this story countless times on stage, I feel that it is easy for Lumiere and Cogsworth to steal the show with their back-and-forth humor, and with the fun that comes with "Be Our Guest." I was pleasantly surprised to see that Belle and Beast stole the show this time around. The strong storytelling, the unforgettable performance by Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, and her character choices help accomplish what I never was quite able to believe in previous tellings of this story -- that these two characters could really and legitimately fall in love.


From a musical perspective, I loved the orchestration of Alan Menken's brilliant score, and the vocals of Emma Watson and Dan Stevens were stunning. New songs are quickly becoming memorable favorites and I've already listened to the album a few times in the car on Apple Music. My only disappointment is that the film did not include two of the more moving selections from the Broadway play -- "If I Can't Love Her" and "Human Again."

At the end of the day, the live action interpretation of this favorite fairy tale stands on its own as a storytelling masterpiece and perhaps the best live-action interpretation that Disney has produced yet.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What You Missed-Daredevil Season 1

Matt starts out as the Masked Man
I thought it might be time to start a new series I'll be calling What You Missed, where we'll go into explaining some of the parts of geekdom that doesn't keep to the PG rating. Basically, think of this as Clean Flicks, the blog.

Let's start with Daredevil

The Dark Marvel

The Marvel Universe isn't always family friendly. Some of these characters though have fan followings of their own and the characters are part of the same universe as the family friendly Captain Marvel and Iron Man. Disney has taken to telling the darker stories as episodic series on Netflix and tend to keep them separate from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe-at least for now. Rumor has it that the Netflix heroes will make a cameo in the upcoming Infinity War movies, so its best to get familiar with the characters just in case.

The Man Without Fear


Most of Daredevil's story lines take place in New York's Hell's Kitchen, a small district in New York City. I won't bother explaining what they changed from the comics or not because with all the ret-cons and alternate tellings it's just a waste of time.

Matt and Foggy-BFFs
Once upon a time a young Matt Murdock lived with his dad, a professional boxer because when you're Irish and in New York it's either that or mob boss according to popular fiction. One day while walking down the street Matt pushed an old man out of the way of an out of control truck and accidentally fell into the trucks cargo of toxic chemicals. This resulted in Matt becoming blind, but since it was toxic waste it also gave him super senses because that's how comic books work. Matt's father is killed around a year later because he wouldn't take a fall during a boxing match for the mafia, and Matt is left orphaned.

Matt meets another blind man, named Stick, who teaches him martial arts for about a week before disappearing mysteriously. We find out later that Stick is in some sort of war that comes up more in the second season.

Years later Matt graduates top of his class and becomes a lawyer with his buddy Foggy and starts a law firm called Nelson and Murdock in Hell's Kitchen in order to help their former neighbors, all the while Matt is running around the streets at night wearing black Under Armor and a mask. Foggy is the comic relief of the show, except for an episode where he finds out Matt's secret and he's shown to be one of the emotional cores of the piece, representing the damage Matt's secret life and the lies he has to tell to maintain it causes to the people he loves.

Enter Kingpin


Bad guys are scarier when they're bald. 
The villain of the first season is Wilson Fisk, AKA Kingpin to comic fans. He's working with the Chinese and Russian mafias as well as the Yakuza to take over Hell's Kitchen (Okay what is in this town that is worth fighting for exactly?). Wilson is a fearsome business man with a cool calm demeanor that hides a massive temper that leads him to eliminate anyone in his way. He's an effective villain not for his vague motivation but for his intimidating presence and the actor's skill with the character. Throughout the season he courts the beautiful art dealer Vanessa, who despite showing trepidation at first to dating a crime lord, eventually warms up to the idea and even becomes his fiance by the end.

Law and Order: Super Heroes

The first season has Matt and Wilson butting heads indirectly through a series of superhero fights and court cases that crosses Matt's desk. The first case gets us Karen Page, a sweet young lady who finds out the company she's working for is secretly corrupt...somehow... and she exposes them to the press which puts her in danger. If this part gets a little vague it's because, to be honest, a lot of the story line in the first season is about Matt and his buddies trying to stop Wilson through the legal system and Matt putting on his mask and beating up his goons. A lot of the lawsuits are about trying to force people out of their homes and trying to trace money back to Wilson, but it's honestly just an annoying complicated mess. Suffice it to say that the series emphasizes the need for both the legal system and vigilante justice.

Claire- The Hero Doctor


Claire-one of the best characters in the Marvel
Cinematic Universe. 
At one point Matt finds himself unconscious in a dumpster and bleeding to death (something Batman has probably had to do early in his career) and is rescued by Claire, a nurse from a local hospital. Claire becomes Matt's on-call doctor whenever a battle has left him particularly injured, and they try to start up a romantic fling for an episode only for Claire to decide that she's better off not becoming someone else's Lois Lane.

Claire is an interesting character to bring up because she appears in all the other Marvel Netflix shows, tying all the shows together. She becomes an audience surrogate character since she is just a normal person in a normal person job.

And The Winner...

Daredevil gets a snazzy new suit-complete with horns. 
After all the fighting and legal maneuvering, by the end of the season Matt gets Wilson arrested, but not before finding Wilson's secret tailor who makes him his snazzy red Daredevil suit. I called him Matt through the piece because it's not till the end that he actually becomes Daredevil by name and outfit, which is a nice touch since few self-respecting human beings would try to go around town calling himself something from an Evil Kanevil ad. In the process Matt also managed to drive the Chinese, Russians and Yakuza out of Hell's Kitchen, keeping it safe for all the crack heads and purse thieves already living there.

While being the first attempt at bringing the cinematic universe into a darker world, the show isn't that bad considering how bad it could've been. The violence is over the top which keeps it out of the kid friendly zone, but despite that and the long courtroom drama stuff, the show is a good start to the Marvel Netflix series.

-JOE






Monday, February 27, 2017

Digimon Adventure Loose Ends

I’ve made it no secret on here that I’m a little bit of a fan of Digimon. Some of my close friends even affectionately call me the Digimon King. This weekend the fourth movie in Digimon Adventure Tri was released in Japan. Now it’s been released with English subtitles. As tempting as it is to watch it now (especially after how heart wrenching it was to rewatch part 3 this last week), but I’ve committed to watch it with a friend this coming weekend.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking of loose ends of plots that never got finished from this Digimon universe (seasons 1 and 2). As much as I’ve talked Digimon up, no show is without its shortcomings. There were many things just left dangling in Seasons 1 and 2. With this movie and two more to go, this would be the perfect time for them to address some of the loose ends that exist (although unlikely for some of them). No spoilers for part four of Tri, but there may be some spoilers for parts one, two, and three.

Dragomon in the Dark Ocean: So in episode 13 of Season 2 (“His Master’s Voice”), we got introduced to a whole new world, parallel to the Digital World and the Real World. After Kari got pulled into this world and TK went in after her, we see a very cryptic Digimon in the ocean as the cliffhanger. This Digimon, Dragomon, is never seen again. We see the Dark Ocean again in Ken’s origin story and when Daemon appears, but Dragomon never appears again. Could we see this again in Tri? Yes. Do I expect us to? No. Not a bit.


Gennai and the Black Sphere: In Season 1 Episode 45 (“The Ultimate Clash”) we get the explanation as to why the Digi-Destined were chosen and how their Digimon, Digivices, and Crests were all put together. In the struggle that ensued when Piedmon tried to steal everything, Piedmon pushes a little black sphere into Gennai’s neck. We are never told what the consequences of this are. Is that why Gennai aged? Or is it why we have a dark Gennai lookalike in part 3 of Tri? In one of the audio dramas, Izzy mentions a black bead, but other than that we know nothing. Since we’ve got some dark Gennai, it’s possible we could learn something about this.


Homeostasis: Twice now Kari has been taken over by a mysterious force. We know that it was Homeostasis in Tri but it would make sense to assume that it was the same in “The Ultimate Clash”. Since we’ve already seen Homeostasis once in Tri, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see her again.


The Original Digi-Destined: As Season 1 came to a close, we were told about some Digi-Destined that existed long before Tai’s group. “Now Apocalymon” shows them as the silhouettes of five of the kids and their Digimon. I had hoped at one point that season 4 or 5 would be about the original Digi-Destined and their adventures. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Now that we’re back in the original continuity, we can learn something about them. I’ve always thought that TK and Matt’s dad was one of them, because of his knowledge of Gabumon in “Flower Power”, but the line in question didn’t exist in the Japanese. However, despite him being out of the running, I have read theories about Himekawa being one of the original Digi-Destined. I guess I’ll find out when I watch part 4.


The Digimon Sovereign: Azulongmon appeared in “Kyoto Dragon” in Season 2 and it was implied that there were three other divine Digimon like him. We see all these Sovereign Digimon in Season 3, but seeing as that’s a different universe, it doesn’t really count. Though I’d consider it unlikely, I’d be interested to see Ebonwumon, Baihumon, or Zhuquiaomon in Tri.


Missing Digi-Destined: Finally, there’s the thing of missing Digi-Destined in Tri. We know at least four of them are missing and no one is really questioning it. That’s weird, right? No one even thought to check on Ken until whoever that was showed up at the school festival. And no one really said anything about Ken’s D-3 appearing. I know Season 2 wasn’t as popular, but I’m hoping they don’t leave that hanging. I mean, all fourteen of the kids appear in the Season 2 epilogue, right?



Well, I guess in a week I’ll know more about all of these loose ends… or not… I guess we’ll see what Digimon Adventure Tri “Loss” has for me.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Video Game Bro Trip

Man I’m talking a lot about my guy friends lately.

I’m not usually one for multiplayer games, truth be told. While I have dabbled in World of Warcraft I’m more of a solo player, like Osaka from Sword Art Online. This habit however quickly drifts away whenever I can get a buddy in the same room to play the same game with me, an occurrence which has been happening more often these days.

A Tour of Sanctuary 
Lately this all started when my friend and I both realized that we were both fans of the Diablo series. He had only got as far as Di
ablo 2 though, but was delighted to find out that Blizzard still had their servers open and sold the game digitally for $20. After a quick download he and I were happily tearing through Sanctuary hot on the heels of Diablo and his brothers. Despite it being purely co-op the competition to collect the most gems quickly blossomed, making the game two parts adventuring and one part Dining Dash as we try to click on the shinies as fast as possible. We eventually moved into Diablo 3 where there’s less competition for the loot and more competition for who gets to kill the monster.

Pre-Disney Avengers Adventures

Before Marvel had its own cinematic universe, a few games came out in the early 2000s that capitalized on the idea of a super hero group beating up the baddies. These came in two flavors: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2 and X-Men Legacy 1 and 2. While wrapping up a game of Dungeons and Dragons I started perusing the PS4 store when I came across an Ultimate Alliance bundle pack for $60. My buddy let out a squee and offered to pay for the thing so long as we got to play it together. Before long our team consisted of Dr. Doom, Deadpool, Hulk and Invisible Woman and we were laughing so hard our sides hurt for days.

Heroes of the Storm and Final Fantasy Roadtrip

 Most of my bro games were made when I was a kid, or teenager, but a few like Diablo 3 can easily become bro trips. It seems that recently game developers have acknowledged the fun of having a bunch of guys go on an adventure. Final Fantasy XV was a game I originally wasn’t keen on playing because it looked like Entourage: The Game, but after some coaxing and watching the Honest Trailer I decided to give it a try. While I wish that the traveling companions were actual players and not AI dressed for an Evanescence concert, I am having fun enjoying their friendship and adventure with them.

 Blizzard pops up again with their latest promotion on Heroes of the Storm. If you play 15 games with a friend as a World of Warcraft character, you can unlock a special mount in the game and in WoW, thus encouraging friends to play together. My buddies and I have been having fun smashing AI while my wife practices, and I’ve learned the wonders and delights of being a Fairy Dragon. At the end of the day, video games are fun but like anything else they’re more fun when shared with others, especially if those others are friends who can help you beat the bad guy and laugh with you along the way. If you haven’t had a bro-trip through a video game world I suggest picking up something (Probably from Blizzard), grabbing a friend and having an old-fashioned video game adventure. -JOE

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Happy 55th Birthday Steve Irwin

Today Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, would have turned 55. That’s a young age (especially for those of us who recently passed 30), but it feels even younger knowing that he passed away over 11 years ago.

The Crocodile Hunter

Steve Irwin (Left) holding crocodile (Right)
For those who didn’t grow up with him, let me fill you in. Steve Irwin was the host of several Animal Planet shows back when they still had shows about animals. As his name earlier suggests he specialized in crocodiles but also dealt with all manner of deadly and exotic animals, mostly in his home in Australia. He was unique in that instead of just filming the animal then doing a commentary over the video he would actually interact with the animals, at time risking life and limb in order to give us, the audience, a unique perspective on the creatures we may’ve never had a chance to see. His wife and daughter became part of the experience as well, though they didn’t showcase as dangerous of animals.

End of an Era

Sadly, though, Irwin passed away before his time due to a freak encounter with a manta ray while filming another episode of his show. For those of us who were fans, this came as an extreme shock to us. While he did flirt with danger (Including one episode where he received a snake bite that made a young Joe cringe into the couch), he was always respectful of animal boundaries and limitations. He was a huge advocate for animal rights, and made sure to let those of us watching what not to do when encountering dangerous animals in our own back yards.

Animal Rights 
It’s interesting to me how much of an impact Irwin had on me both as a child and now as an adult. I find myself when visiting zoos and other animal attractions looking at the conditions the animals are in and wonder if they’re happy there. While I grew up in a family that loved and respected animals, I think it was watching Irwin that helped cement in me the need to steward these precious creatures wherever they are. I think it’s also why I get so outraged when I find out that an animal is abused or neglected.

A Sad Orca

Newborn whale at Sea World seen through murky water.
The one time I visited Sea World I remember how excited I was to finally see the whales. These beautiful orcas I’d seen in movies and read so much about. When we got to the tank between shows though, I noticed one of the males floating vertically and idly bumping his nose against the bottom of the dingy pool. I asked the attendant what he was doing and she said it was a sign of boredom. To me it looked like a sign of extreme depression if anything, but to me the fact that the whale was that bored was a sign that his enclosure was not suited to his needs. I was outraged. I have yet to be back, though I was relieved to hear that they have liquidated their orca program.

When it comes to childhood heroes there’s no telling what shape or size they come in. To me Irwin was a hero because he had a passion fo

r some of the most extraordinary creatures in the world, and he did what should be a goal for everyone: he died doing what he loved.

-JOE

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dear Evan Hansen and Guy Friends


From the Playbill
Recently I was introduced to the musical "Dear Evan Hansen". A brief synopsis of the plot is that a socially introverted high schooler is assigned to write positive letters to himself by his therapist. Another social introvert and drug abuser finds one of his letters that mentions his sister and takes the letter. A day later the stoner kills himself and the letter the introvert wrote is believed to be the kids suicide note. The parents believe that introvert was their son's only friend, and so as not to add to their pain, introvert plays along and fabricates a relationship with the stoner.

The Liar Revealed 
Friends who cosplay together stay together
Its your basic liar revealed story, in the company of Aladdin, the Beautician and the Beast, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, but the thing that I keep thinking about is this one song in the play titled "For Forever". At this point Introvert is trying to explain his secret friendship to the stoner's parents, so he gives an example of the perfect day he had with the stoner. Usually this is the point in the story where the liar has to make up some lies on the spot in order to keep from being caught and is usually played for laughs but here it’s done in a different way. Earlier we found out that before the story started the Introvert broke his arm climbing a tree, and so throughout the play he is seen in a cast. In his story to the stoners parents, he talks about wandering the woods with his best friend and them climbing the tree together and him accidentally falling with his friend immediately finding him and being there. The song paints the picture of a beautiful day between two guy friends. This was the first song I heard from the play, and at the time I just thought it was a beautiful song about two male friends, something rarely heard anywhere in music without the undercurrent of “No Homo”.

An Imagined Friendship
Nothing is better than a summer day with a friend
The idea of this imaginary friendship painted so beautifully intrigued me.  It’s revealed later in the play *SPOILER WARNING* that Introvert didn’t fall out of the tree, but actually jumped in his own attempt to commit suicide. So here we have him telling a story about this perfect day with a friend and in the process changing the narrative of his own real life story from being one of desperation and sadness to one of boyhood adventure. It makes me believe that the lie isn’t just to pacify the parents but is the kind of relationship Introvert actually wants. He wanted a perfect day. He wanted to be found in the woods by someone who loved him.

What Every Man Needs


Former MG writer and I
I wonder what the story would’ve been if the two characters had been friends in real life. If they’d looked past their differences and saw each other as two lonely young men in need of a true friend, a person to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, or even just someone to spend time with. I look at my own life at all the people I met in passing and judged them to be out of my league as far as friendship is concerned, or even worse, below me. I remember the imaginary friendships I made the times I was lonely and wonder if anyone made those imaginary friendships with me. It makes me want to take a good hard look at my world and ask “Who’s missing? Who needs to be found?”
Even Aang gets photobombed
#youwillbefound

-JOE

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I'll Make a Man Out of You

(This post was originally posted on my personal blog in July 2011)

This blog post has been coming for a long time. It’s just been hard to put it into words. Many of my friends from Hill Cumorah Pageant will remember belting out “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” during karaoke on Hobart Day. There is also a Youtube video that Garrett showed me of him belting out this song (big mistake, buddy, haha). I also have memories of my friend, Michele Smith (who is now on her mission in Japan), playing this song whenever we (me, her, Melissa, and Eric) were going somewhere in Eric’s car. I absolutely love this song. It is such a goofy, weird, and strangely spiritually inspirational song.


The day my district left the MTC for Toronto, we were walking across the MTC campus in the early morning, this song was going through my head. Maybe it was because we were up so early… maybe it was because we’d spent three weeks straight trying to train ourselves to think spiritually… maybe it’s just because I’m weird… I started to analyze this song spiritually, in regards to a mission, so here we go:

The biggest point of this song, spiritually, that I saw came from a conversation I’d once had with Juliana about guys and missions. The point of the conversation had been that missions turn boys into men. In other words, the mission will “make a man out of you.” Get it? ;) A mission (hopefully) will teach a young man to follow the Spirit, to learn the gospel, and what is most important. Even after only the three and a half months I was out, people could see this in me.


I’m sure I could break down most of the lines of this song to have some spiritual meaning, but there’s one part that means something to me particularly right now as I come closer to finding out about returning to my mission (even if I don’t know exactly when I will find out): “You’re unsuited for the rage of war. So, pack up, go home. You’re through. How could I make a man out of you?” I mentioned the spiritual application of this part to Garrett in one of my letters. Oddly enough (or not oddly, for anyone who knows me and him) he had been thinking of a spiritual application to this song too and he’d gotten stuck on this line. My spiritual application that I told him was this: the line is Satan telling us we’re no good, we can’t make it the rest of the way, and we can’t do it. If you remember from the movie, though, this line in the song is said and Mulan is about to leave. She turns around, sees the pole, arrow, and medals from the original challenge that Shang had given them. She goes back and makes it up the pole.


Life seems to get hard just before something good happens (so I’m expecting something good pretty quick). Satan tells us we’re not good enough or strong enough to make it through the trial. If we give up when he tells us to though, we’ll miss out on the prize that our Heavenly Father has in store for us.  He will never ask us to do more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Nephi 3:7). When Joseph Smith was in the Sacred Grove, the adversary attacked him. By his own account, Joseph Smith was just about to give up, when the light of Heaven began to appear (JS-H 1:16). He will rescue us in our darkest hour. That I know for certain.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Spoiler-ish Yu-Gi-Oh Dark Side of Dimensions Review

In a world that is eating nostalgia up faster than popcorn during movie theater trailer, it’s not surprising to see so many franchises from the past 20 years and longer trying to make some sort of comeback. Power Rangers is doing that this year, Digimon started celebrating their 15th anniversary a couple years ago, and we’ve already gotten 2 seasons of Fuller House on Netflix. So I was excited to see Yu-Gi-Oh’s 20th anniversary movie this weekend, but I was underwhelmed and disappointed.

So the concept is solid: Pharaoh Atem’s spirit has been released for a while, but Kaiba having the big head that he does can’t leave it alone. He is determined to bring the Pharaoh back and duel him to settle his score. Next enter a new villain who has a vendetta and of course Yugi ends up right in the middle of it. While I liked the concept (the idea of bringing the Pharaoh back was intriguing because both Yugi and Kaiba were struggling to come to terms with his departure), the actual execution of this plot was not well done. And then in the end it was all wrapped with a deus ex machina that didn’t even get an ounce of explanation. So while Yugi and Kaiba got closure, I didn’t.

One thing I liked about this movie was bringing back the entire
gang back together again. Regardless of my other critiques,
the characterization of each of these were on point.

In a way the plot and mechanics of the movie were a little over-complicated. Instead of just a villain and a vendetta, we got oodles of backstory that I didn’t even care about. I mean, some villain backstory is necessary, but I felt like we got too much. Besides all that, the villain’s method of dueling was bizarre. If it had been properly explained, it might have been fine. Instead, things were brushed over. Also there were a lot of new cards added (mostly support cards for Blue-Eyes and Dark Magician) that I knew nothing about, so I was lost as far as exactly what they were doing. Granted, unlike in the TV show, the effects were written on the cards, but I don’t think split second shots to read card effects is sufficient.

Speaking of cards, I also didn’t care for the redesign of some of the cards. Dark Magician and Obelisk the Tormentor looked way too different from the original anime. Now if 100% of the cards had changed, I’d have been more okay with it. Instead, Dark Magician Girl and others looked exactly the same. I don’t know if it was to make the tone of the movie darker or what, but I didn’t care for it much. I certainly didn’t care for the inconsistency.

Dark Magician was the same in the card, so
why did the hologram change?

I’m also a bit sick of Kaiba’s overly prideful attitude. He’s always been obnoxious and a jerk (and a bit delusional), but I’d have thought after his experience in the Memory World and the final duel between Yugi and Atem (granted, that only happened in the anime, not the manga) that he’d be a bit humbler. Nope, instead he developed a god complex as he developed his new tech. Like I said, delusional.

One final critique: As much as this movie tried to tie up some loose ends regarding Bakura and Shadi and giving closure to Yugi and Kaiba, it left me with more questions, regarding the nature of the Millennium Items, the fate of the Pharaoh, and Shadi’s past (never mind that ending). I understand that this movie wasn’t planned when the original story was written, but the added details didn’t sit too well with me. It felt like there was inconsistencies in the story…. And having been a huge fan of Once Upon a Time and Lost, I have proven that I can handle inconsistencies and plot holes.

The movie had some good themes. The idea of fear and hate not being able to fix anything or make a better world is perfect for our world today. Like I said in a previous post, I see a lot of us vs. them going on (and Facebook is just a small microcosm of that) and it’s not going to solve anything in the world. A world of peace CANNOT be created through fear and anger.

As much as I have my issues with this movie, it was nice
to see Yugi finally face Kaiba all on his own.

Honestly, if this movie had been a trilogy or something, it might have been better, kind of like how Digimon is doing six movies for Digimon Adventure Tri. If we’d had more time, we could have gotten used to Dimension Duels and we could have had more time to develop the villain and we wouldn’t have had to rush through the duels we had.

All in all, there was nothing wrong with the movie… just hard to follow and process. Maybe if I watch it a second time I’ll feel differently, but I was frustrated enough with this that I’d rather not buy the movie. I’d rather watch one of the other two movies (“Pyramid of Light” or “Bonds Beyond Time”); they’re not perfect, but they were a lot more self-contained than this one.


Anyway, I’m done ranting. If you’ve seen “Dark Side of Dimensions”, let me know what you think. Would you recommend it? Do you disagree with me or am I on point?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Pokemon Lessons: Us vs. Them

It’s been 2 months since the Presidential Election and I have tried to be consciously quiet about it on my Facebook, on here, and on my personal blog. I have my opinions on the election like all people, of course. However, I think the bigger problem with the election and the world in general is the us vs. them mentality. Democrats vs. Republicans. Conservatives vs. Liberals. Gays vs. Straights. Christians vs. Muslims. DC vs. Marvel. Digimon vs. Pokemon. The list could go on, but here’s where I get deep.



Remember when we were younger and The First Pokémon movie came out? We were all excited about this theatrical release of such a fundamental part of our childhood. I remember going in psyched for Mewtwo, who was supposed to be the strongest Pokémon ever (that’s sort of changed now, but Mewtwo is still pretty awesome). Never mind the fact that we were treated to Charizard, Venusaur, and Blastoise all together. However, do you remember the crucible moment for Mewtwo? Do you remember those deep moments that have brought people to tears?

If you remember, Meowth was cloned by accident, while Team Rocket was snooping around the castle. When all of the super clones were released by Mewtwo and ordered to battle their counterparts, Meowth was initially freaked out because he thought he’d be attacked. But instead his clone was a passivist (how did that happen?). The benefit of having a talking Pokémon there is that we got one of the deepest exchanges I’ve seen in the Pokémon anime:

“We do have a lot in common. The same air, the same Earth, the same sky. Maybe if we started looking at what's the same instead of always looking at what's different ...well, who knows?”



I’ve said it before with issues that, in my opinion, have more eternal significance than an election, but the biggest problem facing us right now isn’t a political party or a candidate or a group of people. Instead, the biggest problem facing us now is hate.

The Savior commanded us to “love one another” (John 13:34). This wasn’t a flippant comment and it’s not just an easy cool one-liner. It’s more than just a primary song that we learned to sign when we were little. He really lived this way. Personally I know I need to love more. I mean, Christ was able to forgive the soldiers who killed Him and despite being betrayed by Judas, He showed no ill-will towards him. Can you honestly picture the Savior saying anything like what gets put on Facebook all too frequently?


I see it all the time: “Liberals want this and we can’t stand for it as conservatives” or “Conservatives have caused this problem because of this and as liberals we have to stand up to them”. First off, I don’t care for all-encompassing comments about any group (because no two people have exactly the same opinion anyway) but how is this making things any better? Sure I could pull a Donna Noble and complain about everything to try to make my life better, but it really doesn’t do anything. I spend way too much time complaining and being mad at people. It only rips me apart and pushes me further away from God. As much as I detest New Years Resolutions (because I think they’re a joke), this would be a good resolution to make: less complaining, less dividing, and more loving.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Joe's Top 10 Video Games of 2016

I know I know, everyone's doing a top 10 whatever list of 2016, but whatever I'm doing one anyway.
Fair warning: I tried to keep this list to games I bought in 2016, which wasn't a lot, so this list is basically "Games Joe Bought in 2016 and Why He Liked Them, but I still think they're worth talking about.

Okay let's do this.

10: No Man's Sky
I won't go into the three ring nightmare the PR for this game ended up being, since you can find that on any gaming website, suffice it to say that we were literally promised the sun moon and stars and were given the last level of Spore with a graphics upgrade. That being said, I loved the last level of Spore so this game was a blast for me. If not for the insane amount of grind and the hard crashes, this game would be higher on my list, but since this game won't be seeing a lot of top ten lists, I think 10 is a good spot for it.

9: Magic Duels
While this game came out in 2015, I personally didn't start playing it till 2016, but when I did I played it a LOT. If you're into Magic: The Gathering this game is a must, as it follows all the core rules and keeps up with the expansions as it comes out. The game is free to play on Steam and does offer the option to pay for additional boosters and decks but 70+ hours in and I nearly have all the sets without paying a dime. This game is also great for those who enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering but aren't as keen to deal with talking to other players, since in the PVP there is no chat. Check it out if you're a Magic: The Gathering fan or trying to become one.

8: The Curious Expedition
I was so excited when this game finally went on sale and I could buy it. This is a great game for anyone who's a fan of Kipling, Indiana Jones, or even a little Lovecraft. You play a world famous explorer (Or H.P. Lovecraft) and lead an expedition into the unknown all around the world. While the levels can feel a bit samey, even on different continents, the game play of exploring maps and seeing what's just beyond the draw distance is enough to keep any explorer engaged. The turn based dice combat takes a second to get used to, but once you do it's like playing a very aggressive form of Yhatzee.

7: Far Cry Primal
In my "Not Suitable for All Audiences" category we have Far Cry Primal: a cave man sandbox game. I thought the masculine power fantasy in video games was solely focused on guns but there's nothing like leaping from a cliff with spear in hand onto an unaware Neanderthal in nothing but a loin cloth and war paint to make you feel all sorts of manly-then try doing it in a video game! Plus you get to train saber-tooth tigers to do your bidding so my cat got a kick out of the game as well.

6: Gems of War
So this game came out in 2014 which pretty much makes this a retro review but since this year I clocked in over 80 hours I think its time to talk about it. The game is a hybrid of Magic the Gathering and Candy Crush where you build and upgrade a team to take on other people's team through color matching combat. The game carries the same addicting quality of Candy Crush where you just want to try one more game but find yourself still up at 1 AM looking for a fight. Gems of War is free on Steam so give it a look but make sure your well hydrated and ready for a new addiction before you do.


5: Stardew Valley
This year's indie darling, Stardew Valley is a throwback to the Harvest Moon games with the addition of also being able to fight monsters. As far as improvements go, any game without the ability to fight monsters can benefit from fighting monsters so this game was a winner in my book. Building your own farm and maintaining the plants and animals has honestly never been so much fun, and the top-down 2D controls is so much better than the clunky 3D-ifying the Game Cube tried to pull in the day that made it look like you were trying to grow balloon animals. Have a go at it if you long for the simple life but can't afford to move to rural Wisconsin.

4: Darkest Dungeon
Officially released this year, I was playing this thing all the way back in early access. The game is the typical rogue-like with the twist that the horrors and fighting your adventurers face can have a toll on their sanity, making them contract afflictions like addiction and paranoia if you don't keep an eye on them. The game is a dark Cthuhluesque adventure set in an 1800s backdrop, giving the feeling of watching a black-and-white horror movie while playing Dungeons and Dragons on a rainy night.

3: Worlds of Final Fantasy
No, this is not Final Fantasy XV. Frankly I decided to skip on that since it looked like the goth clique of a high school was having an Entourage style road trip, but Worlds is a whole different kettle of fish. Set in a wacky mix of Final Fantasy worlds, the game allows you to collect classic Final Fantasy monsters and train them like Pokemon, up to and including evolving them. The game play is fun, the story is funny in a self-referential fourth-wall Deadpool sort of way. The only reason this game isn't higher up is because the support character grated on my spine right out of the gate and there's no way to Old Yeller it in the starting area.

2: World of Warcraft: Legion
While not a full game, most expansions to WOW can be classified as stand-alone games given the amount of content they add,
and Legion is no exception. I immediately made a new Demon Hunter character and jumped right into the Legion expansion and quickly found myself falling in love with the game all over again. The massive demon invasions leading up to launch made it feel like the world was in peril on an epic scale and the coordinating quest was interesting and varied enough to keep my interest and never wore out its welcome in length. This game earns the #2 spot on my list because of all these I still predict its the game I'm going to dump the most hours into.

1: Pokemon Moon
With every addition the Nintendo gang tries to mix up the formula with the Pokemon franchise and this time they not only mixed it up but added diced pineapple to the batch. Set in a Hawaii inspired Aloha region, the game throws out the conventional 8 gym leader model in favor of puzzles and tests that truly challenge even the veteran Pokemon trainer. It honestly feels like every annoyance I ever had with the series has been either removed completely or revamped in a fun new way. My favorite example is the new Pokemon Uber system in the game (No I don't remember what it's called). What you have is a little device that you press to summon a Pokemon friend to you who will basically preform the functions HMs used to preform, from flight to rock smash to even just moving you faster so you don't even need the stupid bike or roller skates. This means you don't need to waste a slot on a Pokemon's moves to use an HM that can never be removed. It's also just a simple joy to jump on a Charizard and use fly right on his back.

What games did you love in 2016?

-JOE





Monday, January 2, 2017

Good Geeky Things Coming in 2017

Happy New Year! Now that I’ve stayed up til midnight to celebrate 2017 beginning (side note: New Years is much more anticlimactic for me than it was as a kid; anyone else feel that way?), it’s time to look ahead (and away from 2016) at what the new year has for us Geeks. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but it’s what I’m looking forward to.


Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions (January 27)
A welcome addition to the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise, we’re gonna get a new adventure with Yugi, Kaiba, and the original Duel Monsters gang. If I understand correctly, it’ll be shortly after the end of the original anime series, after releasing the spirit of the Pharaoh. Not much was explicitly shown in the trailer, but I’m looking forward to seeing some of these original characters back, as well as some (likely) supped up versions of their classic monster cards.

Digimon Adventure Tri, Part 4: Loss (February 25)
I’ve gotten back into my childhood obsession of Digimon this past year, perfectly timed for Tri, the sequel to Digimon Seasons 1 and 2. Only Part 1’s dub “Reunion” was aired in US theaters this year, but all the way through Part 3 has been aired in Japan. Part 4, which I’m super excited for, is airing in February. Hopefully we’ll get the dub of Part 2 in American theaters soon as well.


Now while Disney is kind of copping out by rebooting all their animated features as live action remakes (Maleficent, Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon, etc.) I’m excited for this one. In large part it’s because of Emma Watson playing Belle. Now I’m sure the fact that she’s my top celebrity crush helps, but with how intelligent she is (not just as Hermione, but in real life as well), I think she makes the perfect Belle.

Iron Fist (March 17)
In addition to “Beauty and the Beast”, we’ll also have Iron Fist coming out on March 17. Since I’m still very much a n00b when it comes to Marvel Comics, I don’t know much about Iron Fist except that he’s the last new Marvel Netflix character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that will appear before he joins up with the others for “The Defenders” later in 2017, but more on that later.


Power Rangers (March 24)
After rewatching the original Power Rangers series recently (I’m currently working my way through Zeo and I’ll be into Turbo soon) it’ll be interesting to see the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers rebooted as new versions of themselves. This version seems a bit edgier, so that’ll be different from the goody-goody versions in the original. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa.

Doctor Who Series 10 (April)
After a year away from new Who, it’ll be great to get more Doctor Who soon. After watching the trailer that aired with the Christmas special last week, I’m a little skeptical of the new companion, Bill, but I’m willing to give her a shot. She seems a bit obnoxious, but if I handle Leela and Amy Pond, I can stomach Bill. Plus it’s speculated that she and Capaldi will only be together one season.


Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 (May 5)
It’s been a few years since Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, and Rocket teamed up for the first time. In just a few months we’ll see them back together again to guard the galaxy. I’m curious how this will lead up to “Avengers: Infinity Wars”. Maybe we’ll see another Infinity Stone? Definitely gonna get a bunch of Baby Groot at the very least.

Cars 3 (June 16)
I didn’t mind Cars 2, but I definitely didn’t expect a sequel. However, based on the trailers it looks like it’ll be a bit darker. I’m not sure what Pixar will be getting at, but I guess we’ll all see in time.


Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7)
After seeing Peter Parker in “Civil War”, it’ll be interesting to see him in his solo movie. However, based on the trailers it almost looks like it’ll be “Iron Man and Spider-Man” instead of “Spider-Man”. If that’s the case I’m a little skeptical, mostly because of how irresponsible Tony was with Peter’s safety in Civil War. But this won’t stop me from seeing it, even if I am skeptical.

The Inhumans (September 4)
This minority of the human population was first shown in Agents of SHIELD in Season 2. Now we’re about to get a series all about them. This makes it kind of unclear if Agents of SHIELD will be done after their current season or if “The Inhumans” will air separate from Agents of SHIELD. Regardless, the pilot of “The Inhumans” will air in IMAX theaters on September 4 before it airs on ABC.


Thor: Ragnarok (November 3)
After all the confusion of whatever was going on with Thor in “Age of Ultron”, it’ll be nice to get some explanation. In addition to all of that, we’ve got Hulk and Loki appearing. Should be interesting. Plus, in general, I can’t complain about getting a third new movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Star Wars Episode VIII (December 15)
After flashing back to Rogue One, we’re going jump forward 30+ years again to sequel “The Force Awakens”. I’d expect some one-on-one training with Luke and Rey, some space battles, some Kylo Ren tantrums, and hopefully a fitting goodbye to Leia. Maybe in post-production they can lay her to rest, as a fitting tribute to Carrie Fisher?


Besides all these, we also have “The Defenders”, “The Punisher”, some more DC movies, a rebooted “Duck Tales”, and TV series for “Tangled” and “Big Hero 6” to look forward to. What have I missed? What geeky stuff are you looking forward to this year? What is going to make 2017 great for you?

Side Note for any David Tennant fans: Did you see who will
be voicing Scrooge McDuck in the new "Duck Tales"?