I vow…

to become more disciplined in my spiritual life.  I’m not sure if I need to explain this one.  Maybe I do.  I’ll just say this:  I need to become a better hearer and doer of the Word. 

to stop getting so angry in the car.  People don’t know how to drive.  It annoys me.  I makes me very mad.  It shouldn’t.  I need to fix that.

to use “perspicacious”, “gasconading”, and “callipygian” as often as possible. 

to love my wife like she deserves.  Every day that goes by, I notice an area in my life that needs work.  This one has been on my mind a lot recently.  Deep down, I am a very selfish person.  I don’t like that, but it is true.  I am also a bit full of myself.  I’ll tell myself that I am doing so many things right – things that other husbands never think to do.  And I pat myself on the back and feel so good about me.  Then I go do or say something hurtful, inconsiderate, or stupid, and I see the effect it has on her.  I’ve got so much work to do to become the husband I need to be.  And it is a work that is never finished. 

to be more friendly to everyone I encounter.  Maybe a kind word from me is just what someone needed.  That sounds rather gasconading of me, doesn’t it?

to spend as much time with my kids as I possibly can.  I don’t want them to grow up thinking that their Dad enjoyed doing other stuff more than spending time with them.  I won’t get these years back.  Once they are gone – and they are going quickly – they’ll be gone for good.  My oldest is 8 years old.  He will be headed to college in less than 10 years.  I want to make these years count.  And that starts with just being there for them. 

to eat something that I love every week.

to discover a new band ever year.  I don’t want to be one of those people that stops listening to new music.  You know the type; the guy that stopped listening to new stuff in the mid-80’s – he’s the guy wearing the Wham t-shirt.  I want to discover new stuff.  I want to fall in love with new songs. 

to discover a new author every year.  Same as above.  I don’t want to get stuck just reading my favorites.  I want to find new voices.

 to learn how to make New York Style pizza at home. 

to keep in better contact with friends and family that do not live near me.

to tell my wife that those jeans make her look rather callipygian.

to grill some salmon this year.  I’ve never tried this and I think I would really like it.

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Needtobreathe – The Reckoning (Review)

I’ve been listening to Needtobreathe’s new album, The Reckoning, pretty much non-stop for the past week.  It’s that good.  I wanted to write a review, but I wanted it to be a little different than my past reviews so I decided to write it in a Q&A format.  I hope you enjoy.  Most of all, I hope if you are unfamiliar with this band, you will give this one a shot.  It’s worth it.

Q:What are your favorite songs on the album?

A:  That’s really hard to say.  There are so many good ones.  I guess if I had to pick some favorites I would say “White Fences” would be pretty high.  As would “The Reckoning”.  You could even throw in “Wanted Man”, “Oohs and Ahhs”, and “Drive All Night”.  Heck, toss in “Able”, “A Place Only You Can Go”, “Slumber”, “Learn to Love” and “Keep Your Eyes Open”.  Yeah, I just named 10 of the 14 songs.  Oh, and I forgot about “Devil’s Been Talking”.  That’s another really good one.  Ok, I’ll narrow it down a bit.  I guess the ones that have really stood out to me the most are “White Fences”, “The Reckoning”, and “Oohs and Ahhs”.  But I’m sure this list will evolve as the songs settle in over time.

Q:  What does the album sound like?

A:  It sounds like Needtobreathe.  If you have heard their previous 3 albums, you have a good idea what it sounds like.  Except it’s even more assured.  They can pretty much play any style they want.  They incorporate more piano on this album than they ever have – which is a good thing.  The songs are full – very full.  Lots of stuff going on all the time.  Not to say every song is busy.  There are a few simpler tunes – “Wanted Man” and “A Place Only You Can Go” come to mind.  But even those do some really interesting things – bag pipe on one of them is a good idea what I am talking about.  “Keep You Eyes Open” sounds like something they would have done on their first album – but after years of maturing.  It’s pop goodness with big hooks and a heart-on-their-sleeves sensibility.  They do a couple of more gospel infused numbers – no surprise there.  “Able” really shines in that regard.  Then many of the other songs are just good rock songs.  Vocally, they have never sounded better – the rest of the band picks things up here a lot.  It’s a cohesive album, but they take plenty of twists and turns along the way.  If you haven’t heard Needtobreathe, it’s just good pop-rock infused with southern rock and a splash of bluegrass. 

Q:  What are the songs about? Is there a theme?

A:  I would say the overall theme is:  The world is tough, many have been dealt a bad hand, but there are still wonders and glories to experience if we just open up our eyes and go after them.  They hit on that theme on more than one song.  The line, “Replace your feeble with the fable” from “Slumber” seems to capture the idea of grasping the Truth by letting go of the misery and victim mindset.  The lyrics are good – just what you would expect from the band. 

Q:  Are there any songs as fun as “Prisoner” or “Girl Named Tennessee” from The Outsiders?

A:  That’s a tough one.  “Oohs and Ahhs” is a lot of fun – but it’s got more of an edge than either of those songs.  Thematically, it’s just darker so the music takes on some of that.  “Devil’s Been Talking” is a fun, up-tempo number.  “Drive All Night” gets my feet tapping.

Q:  Do they have any overtly “Christian” songs like “Signature of the Divine” from The Heat?

A:  Not really.  “Slumber” is full of spiritual insight as are many other songs, but there is nothing as CCM ready as SofD. 

Q:  Is this is their best album?

A:  I don’t know.  It’s good…really good.  I’ve had more time to process and get to know “The Outsiders” so it has stood the test of time.  This one is so new that it’s hard to say how it will hold up.  I can’t imagine it won’t hold up though.  I’ve listened to it pretty much non-stop for the past 3 days, if that tells you anything.  I’m not tired of any songs yet either – even the ones that I would consider the weaker tracks.  It’s got 14 songs.  11 of them of outstanding.  3 of them are good.  It’s just really good music most anyone could enjoy.  It’s accessible but not pandering.  It’s challenging but not too artsy.  It’s great pop-rock with a southern influence. 

 

Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender

I recently watched the film The Last Airbender.  I am so glad that I was not a huge fan of the show – Avatar: The Last Airbender when they started making this film or I would have been very disappointed.  As it is, I am still disappointed but I became a fan of the series after the first trailer for this film appeared.  I didn’t have time to work up my excitement only to be let down.  Still, it is just sad that they could take such a rich, deep, and enjoyable series and turn it into 2 hours of dark, humorless, nonsensical plotting.  They get so many things wrong that I don’t know where to start.  What I am going to attempt to do is to examine the film first on its own merits, without holding it up to the source material.  Then I will examine the film from the perspective of someone who loves the television series.  I’m not sure which is the fairest approach, which is my main reason for doing both. 

“Just the movie” review:

Typically, I try to view a film as its own thing, without comparing it to its source material.  Filmmakers have different things they have to accomplish, some of which are radically different that what can be done in different mediums, whether literature or television.  In my attempt to be as fair to this film as possible, I did my best to watch it with an open mind.  The results are mixed.  First, the film looks impressive.  I think they did a good job of creating an intricate and detailed look for each culture.  The costumes are beautiful and look like something that these characters would actually wear.  The set design is also very strong, showing good detail in even the most background elements.  The movie is filmed in an appropriately epic style.  It has plenty of aerial shots – something that every fantasy film has been doing since the first Lord of the Rings film came out.  The colors are vibrant, but do not feel over-the-top or fake.  The special effects and digital effects look good as well.  The bending effects looked convincing and realistic even though I did have some problems with their implementation – I’ll get to those in a bit.  As far as the characters are concerned, they are a mixed bag as well.  Unfortunately, the title character – Aang – is just not very interesting.  I will never blame a child actor for a bad performance even if that actor really has less-than-great acting skills.  The blame for bad acting from a child should always fall on the director.  And believe me; a lot of blame needs to be laid at M. Night Shyamalan’s feet.  He simply did not do good work with these kids.  The script is clunky and it leaves the kids to spout off lines that just fall flat.  Sometimes that can be helped by a really convincing and arresting performance, but as a director, M. Night just doesn’t draw that type of performance out of the children.  Aang (Noah Ringer) and Katara (Nicola Peltz) both have moments of elementary school play syndrome – they are saying lines that they don’t understand or really believe.  It’s sad because I do think that both of those actors could have given stronger performances.  The older actors all do better work, but nothing to really write home about.  The plot has some issues as well.  At times it seems to be focused, but then it will just randomly insert some scene that doesn’t have much to do with the main storyline.  I wouldn’t have an issue with that if those scenes added character development or even some humor, but they don’t.  They are just there. 

Taken on its own, the film is average at best.  The story never really seems to get off the ground, the actors do adequate work with the exception of the protagonists who just seem a little lost, and the effects, while pretty to look at, lack any real thrills.  If this had been my first exposure to this story, I doubt I would have been interested enough to seek out the television series.

The adaptation review:

As an adaptation of a thrilling, funny, engaging, exciting, and emotionally powerful television series, this film is an utter failure.  The biggest mistake made is that for some unknown reason, Shyamalan decided that the film needed to be dour, grim, and overly serious.  Aang is no longer the hyperactive, immature, fun-loving kid from the TV series.  Instead, he is full of angst and doubt.  He rarely smiles and he laughs even less.  I don’t know who that kid is supposed to be, but he is not the Aang that I know and love.  The Aang that I know is a typical 12-year-old kid who happens to be an extremely powerful airbender.  At times, he can get a big head.  At times he behaves like a typical 12-year-old boy, which means he does some stupid stuff.  Above all though, Aang from the TV series is capable of moments of complete selflessness and sacrifice.  He is good-natured and open-hearted.  He cares for everyone around him and he always ends up doing the right thing, even if it takes him some time to figure out what that is.  The film missed all of that.  All of it.  In the TV series, Aang grows and matures as the series progresses.  He goes through moments of confusion and doubt.  He has moments of anger and bitterness.  But that takes place later on – in Books 2 and 3.  By making him start at that point in the film, you give the character nowhere to go in future films. 

Don’t get me started on Sokka.  Talk about completely missing the point of a character.  I don’t have the time or the energy to address all that is wrong about him in the film.  Katara is the closest of the three main kids to her TV counterpart, but even she loses something due to the changes made to Aang and Sokka. 

Prince Zuko is also changed and not for the better.  They start him off in the film in a much more sympathetic light.  He is not seen as the spoiled and angry young prince as he appears in the first half of Book 1.  Once again, his character has nowhere to go – he is already at the end of Book 1 character progression at the beginning of the film.  Zuko is one of the most complicated characters I’ve ever seen on a TV show – with a lot of baggage and internal conflicts.  The film gets some of that right; they just don’t time those revelations correctly. 

The action is the other thing that really bothered me.  The bending effects look good but they are just not implemented with any sense of style.  It takes forever for the benders to make anything move in this film – stuff just sort of floats around for a while before finally doing what they want to do with it.  While that is going on, the other characters just stand around watching.  They see an earthbender getting ready to launch a rock at them – and it is taking a good bit of time for them to do that – and they just stand there and wait until the rock comes “flying” towards them.  (I put flying in quotation marks because the rocks don’t really fly – it’s more like they hover from one spot to another.)  The cartoon had action scenes that were always fun to watch – even in the limited world of television budgets.  I figured with current digital technology this is the one area where the film could really wow the audience – but it doesn’t.  The action scenes are boring and lifeless.

I’ll stop there.  I could go on.  I could talk about the insane addition of having Admiral Zhou constantly traveling back to the Fire Nation to discuss things with the Fire Lord.  How in the world does he get back and forth so quickly?  It’s never explained and it makes no sense.  I could talk about how the sense of fun of the TV series is completely gone in the film.  If the show was one thing, it was fun.  Taking that element out of the film makes the whole thing sort of pointless.  Why adapt this TV show if you are going to change the very thing that made it successful?  For crying out loud, they even screw up Appa and Momo!

While the film has some good things about it, it pales next to the series.  At this point, I’m not even sure if a good adaptation could be made of this series.  It’s just too complicated and involved to capture in a 2-hour film.  Perhaps M. Night and the rest of the cast and crew just never really had a chance.  This project seems to have been doomed to fail from the start.

Names you should never pick for your children – Part 2

You can read Part 1 right here.  If you are new to this concept, it’s pretty simple:  These are names you should never name your children.  I thought that part was obvious by the title of this post…

Boys:

Gaylord.  If you are seriously contemplating naming your son Gaylord, you need to seriously contemplate whether you are related to Satan. 

Edward.  By itself, it’s not a bad name.  In fact, it’s a fine name.  There have been many great Edwards in history.  But there is one Edward that has utterly destroyed the worthiness of this name for future generations.  But it is all dependent on the motivation behind the name.  Here is a simple test to see if you should name your child Edward:
1.  Are you a fan of the Twilight series – either books or films or (shudder) both?
If you answered no, then you are in the clear. If you answered yes, then you have failed the test and you should leave the naming of your child to someone else. (Addendum to the above test: If you are the mother and you love Twilight and you want to name your son Edward, you are forbidden. If you are the father and you love Twilight and you want to name your son Edward, does your name happen to be Gaylord?)

Richard yet you use the playful and affectionate diminutive, Dick. If I have to explain why you shouldn’t use this name then the battle is already lost. I hope you can live with yourself as our society and culture crumble all around us.

Girls:

Pansy. This might have worked 50 years ago, but its time has come and gone. Goodbye Pansy. It was nice knowing you.

Fanny. I have some questions for those people who have actually named their daughter Fanny:  Did you have some sort of wager with your friends that you required the loser to name one of their daughters Fanny? Were you a big fan of the fanny pack and you hope that by naming your daughter Fanny you will somehow inspire people to bring the pack back into prominence? The pack is dead – move on with your life.  Are you scratching your head trying to figure out what is wrong with the name Fanny? If so, don’t worry about it. Just go back to watching The Price is Right.

Amy. There is an Amy that was born a little over 33 years ago. Since that time, all other Amy’s in the world are rendered invalid. The name achieved maximum coolness on that hot Missouri day. There is now no reason to ever use the name Amy again because no Amy can live up to the standard that has been set. If you are unfortunate enough to have been named Amy since that time, do yourself a favor and have your name legally changed…or go by your middle name. Those are better options for you. If you continue using the name Amy you will be held accountable for your shortcomings – and believe me, they are many.

New posts coming soon!

Seriously.

This is for real.

I’m working on a couple of things and should have something new posted in the next couple of days.  One of the items I am working on is a review of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender.  If you have paid any attention to this blog you know that I am a huge fan of the television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Needless to say, based on the negative reviews and the general dislike of the film adaptation, I just had not gotten around to watching it.  I remedied that recently and will be posting a review. 

Also, I’ve got another Four that got away installment – this is where I highlight one movie, one book, one TV show, and one CD that have been overlooked by the general public.  I will probably have that one ready early next week.

Finally, I am working on a couple of other things – one serious and one not so serious.  I don’t know which one will be ready first, but I hope to have them both posted this month. 

So, stick around.  New material coming soon!

A new blog post.

Apparently I have let many people down.  I have done something unthinkable.  Something horrible even.  What is this horribly unthinkable thing that I have done?  I have not posted a new blog entry in a long time.  Technically, that would be something I haven’t done…but let’s not get caught up in the particulars.  The point is:  I am a huge disappointment.  Do I have an excuse for my lack of posting?  Not really.  I just haven’t been inspired to write anything.  I have tossed a few ideas around in my head, but nothing has made it past that early, infant stage.  If those ideas ever become fully formed, you will be the first to know. 

So, what is this specific blog entry about?  Nothing really.  I have no reason to be writing these words other than there are certain people who I know (think: wife and brother) who have asked me why I haven’t posted in a long time.  It really is as simple as that.  If you are still reading hoping that I will write something witty or funny or inspiring, you might as well leave now because I have nothing of the sort in mind.  I fully intend this entry to the be the most boring, uninspiring, and humorless thing I have ever written.  It will be worse than that actually.  It will be pointless.  I could forgive a boring, uninspiring, and humorless blog post if it were just poorly written, or a topic that did not interest me.  But to write something, regardless the length, that serves no purpose at all is just the definition of emptiness.  (At this point, I could try to tie in a quote from Ecclesiastes and make this whole entry sound important and very spiritual.  But I won’t because that would be a cheap, thinly veiled attempt at purposefulness, and the very idea disgusts me.  I will not try to overspiritualize this because I feel that trite spiritualization does more damage than good.  No, this entry shall remain entirely pointless.)

  Why are you still reading this?  That is a very important question, and I am glad I asked.  I have no answer for that.  I am not you and cannot begin to imagine why you would subject yourself to this.  You need to find more productive things to do with your time.  Perhaps, the more important question would be; why am I still writing?  I am me and I still cannot completely answer that question, but here are my reasons for writing:

  1. I feel guilty for not blogging more often.  I shouldn’t feel guilty, but I do.
  2. I want people to like me.  I enjoy getting complements about my blog.
  3. My wife told me I needed to post more often.  She is the boss of me.
  4. I want people to think I am funny.  Granted, this entry is not the best evidence of my humor, but you have to admit that part about the….stuff….or the thing about being pointless….and that inspiring bit was pretty…ummm….yeah….  I’m sure there is something funny up there.
  5. I’m on my lunch break.

 In closing, I will try to do better in the future.  I’ve said that before but I really mean it this time.  I didn’t really mean it the previous times.  I just said that so people would leave me alone.  Maybe that is what I am doing right now…no one can no for sure.  Only God knows because He knows everything.  Much like the deer that is panting at the edge of the rippling brook, so my soul longs for the tender mercies afforded me by the……. Sorry!  Wrong Scripture reference.  MUST NOT MAKE IMPORTANT-SOUNDING-SPIRITUAL-LESSON THAT DOES NOT BELONG! ——–I passed the test.  I will diminish and go into the Western part of my office building and eat my rice and remain Phillip. 

You have now successfully wasted at least a few minutes of your day.  Congratulations!  Go back to work.

Rant of the Day

Little known fact:  Every public restroom in the country has a fairy that likes to get water all over the sink, the mirror, and the floor.  Evidently, this fairy is unable to wash his hands without getting water everywhere.  I know this has to be a fairy, or some other fantastical creature – something magical for sure – because there is no way that a human being could get so much water in so many places by simply washing their hands.  It would take a strong, physically fit, man, with 4 large buckets and perhaps a garden hose, an entire afternoon to create the kind of watery mess that is found in every single public bathroom I have ever visited.  It would have to be intentional…deliberate…and I know there is no man out there that is just so slovenly, so uncouth, so careless, that they would create the second Great Flood by accident. 

(Another little known fact:   This fairy is unlike other fairies.  It is not small and sparkly.  It does not fly.  This fairy takes the shape of an adult male.  It is usually rotund, or perhaps doughy would be the better descriptor.  It has the mental faculties of a dazed and confused water buffalo, with none of the charm.  It is an odious creature, full of mean-spirited trickery.  If you see it in the bathroom, which is extremely rare, do not make eye contact with it or speak to it.  If you have something you can throw at it, do so.  That will distract it long enough for you to run away.)

So, here is my question:  Is there a ritual, or some magical incantation we can utter that will appease the angry, or perhaps mischievous, bathroom fairy?  Does it want a gift of some sort?  A sacrifice?  Regardless how we put a stop to this, the important thing is that we put a stop to it.  I am tired of standing at the sink and getting water all over the front of my pants and shirt and looking like I just urinated all over myself.  That’s not cool fairy.  Not cool at all.