Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The classical comparison essay - Macbeth and Richard the Third

My latest work for Classical Writing serves as a sort of double invective, denouncing two of Shakespeare's greatest, or worst depending on how you use the word, villains and comparing their crimes at the same time.  Please do not take offense at my bashing of Richard; I only condemn the literary character that Shakespeare invented, not the historical king.

Two of cruelest villains Shakespeare created were Macbeth and Richard the Third.  Although their core characters and progressions to infamy were vastly different, the atrocities they committed were equally repulsive and similar in tragic consequence.  Both men were murderers without conscience, and their tyranny eventually drove their former friends to murder them in the name of justice.  Indeed, the wicked deeds of both kings deprived them of any friends they once knew, and the only allies they retained they kept through fear.  It is hard to discern which of these monsters was more despicable, as they both deserve eternal suffering for their crimes.

Macbeth’s origins in the play are mostly unknown, although the real-life Macbeth was the grandson of a king, Malcolm the 2nd, and was married to a woman named Gruach, the granddaughter of a High King of Scotland.  Richard the Third was the brother of King Edward the 4th, and his claim to the throne stemmed from that link, even though the throne rightfully belonged to young Edward the 5th.  The important fact is that neither Richard nor Macbeth had a true right to their kingdoms, and they had to resort to evil schemes to capture their power.

Macbeth’s initial character is far different than Richard’s, because Macbeth begins as a brave leader in Duncan’s army, whereas Richard is a total, unmitigated villain in every aspect.  Macbeth’s downfall comes from hearing the prophecy of The Weird Sisters, who promise that he will become King of Scotland.  This ignites hiss ambition, but he still refrains from murdering Duncan.  Lady Macbeth is the one who ultimately spurs events into motion, when she questions her husband’s virility for quavering from the bloody task.  Macbeth then cowardly stabs Duncan in his sleep to appease his raving wife.  Macbeth allows his wife to control him through his weak personal resolve and his greedy ambition.  Richard, in contrast, plots and executes all his crimes of his own accord, and indeed confesses at the very beginning of the play, “I am determined to play a villain… Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, / By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams, / To set my brother Clarence and the King / In deadly hate, the one against the other.”  The chief difference in their characters is that Macbeth evolves into a villain, but Richard assumes that position from the very beginning.

Both villains acted upon the same motivations and carried out similar injustices.  Richard and Macbeth had illegitimate claims to their countries’ thrones, which they believed justified their violent methods to obtain the crown.  This false idea led them to commit several brutal murders, aimed both at personal enemies who provoked them and also at innocent bystanders.  Richard’s list of victims is too long to read in full, but it included his brother, nephews, and wife, in addition to his political adversaries.  Macbeth first slaughtered Duncan and his guards, then hired some murderers to eliminate his friend, Banquo.  Neither of these attacks was warranted, but even more reprehensible is his savage removal of his rival Macduff’s wife and son, who had done nothing at all to incite his wrath.  Macbeth was right before he turned to corruption, when he said, “I dare do all that may become a man; / Who dares do more is none.”  The actions of Macbeth and Richard go beyond those of a true man, and as Macbeth suggests, these murderers are not true men, but monsters.

In the end, it’s hard to determine which of the characters is more hateful.  Richard is a natural villain, and admits so in the play’s very beginning, so the audience can summon no sympathy for him. Macbeth, on the other hand, shows noble qualities in the beginning before succumbing to greed and corruption.  This renders him a more sympathetic character for a short while, but his subsequent betrayal of his closest allies only makes the audience despise him more.  Richard disturbs the audience, and Macbeth repulses them.  Neither can hope for redemption, as Macbeth poetically contemplates that no power in the world can erase the impact of his sin.  “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No: this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Movie pre-production: Santa is ______

A burglar
"A white spherical thing that's full of..." (it's an insider joke)
A heretic
A false idol
A radical terrorist of infants
A discriminator against the poor or "The King of Favoritism" (Jason Call)
An animal abuser
A slave-driver
The Antichrist
The Devil's Claws
A wearer of The Lord's blood (Jason Call)

As the advent season and with it Christmas break approaches, I am preparing to initiate the writing of the most spectacular and original film that you will ever witness, The Winter Holiday.  Being as brilliant and humble and sarcastic an author as I am, I am fully capable of seizing the task alone if the situation demands that, but I would gladly accept and enormously appreciate any help that my loyal readers extend to me.  How can you do so?  The first and only requirement is to be a Santa Claus/Satan Claws hater.  If you want to assist in the creative development of The Winter Holiday, you must wrack your brain to discover either a negative characteristic of the man in red or an ominous title for him.  I've already brainstormed 10 vices which can be attributed to Santa Claus.  If you do come up with some crime I haven't already listed, leave it in a comment to this post in the form of "Santa is fill in the blank", and it could be reflected in the final draft of the screenplay for The Winter Holiday.  I'll also be updating this post with all the ideas that you provide; if you leave a name besides simply "Anonymous", I'll credit you for the addition to this list, and you'll be recognized for your contribution in the credits of the movie, if I ever actually make it.

If you have any questions about the movie regarding its story, theory, budget, or its minute possibility of being produced, leave a comment and I'll answer to the best of my ability.  If you're the nephew of a certain Cameron, Nolan, Scorcese, or Spielberg, live in Southern California, and want to work on the special effects, cinematography, costumes, or whatnot, feel free to inquire.  If you want to have a spirited debate with me as one who genuinely finds no reason to oppose Santa, the Easter Bunny, or the Black Friday Turkey, or if you want to discuss with me the growing movement to separate religion and Christmas, leave a comment in my last post containing the classical invective essay.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Believing" In Santa

This essay was made possible in part by the excellent tutoring of Mrs. Weitz and the unparalleled writing course by Mrs. Jacqua.  Classical Writing, how I love thee.

Whenever a figure replaces the true God in any way, time, or place, it becomes an idol, and the 2nd commandment proclaims that no man shall make for himself a false idol.  Yet every Christmas season, the modern world worships an idol by the name of Santa Claus, who has effectively taken over the spotlight during the holy day.  The meaning of Christmas, so named for the birth of our wonderful savior Jesus Christ, is overshadowed every year in hundreds of millions of households, and popular culture takes the place of religious faith in the minds of innumerable children.  It is for this reason that Santa Claus is the most threatening idol to Christian values in history, for aside from his shameless theft of what used to be a holy day of commemoration and celebration, he is also guilty of other minor crimes.  If an idea can burn, there should be a massive bonfire prepared specially for the Claustian movement.

Contrary to popular belief, Claus did not for the most part originate from legends told about Saint Nicholas, who was a very godly and pious man.  Santa’s roots come more from Dutch folklore and a European legend called Sinterklaas, who is almost as evil as Claus himself.  Sinterklaas in turn is based on several old stories told about the 4th century saint, but there is little reason to believe that the tales of the Nicholas’ charitable giving at Christmastime are true.  In any case, the Saint Nicholas stories were taken and applied to Sinterklaas and Santa with a twisted result.

The character of Santa began to surface in the 19th century, in the drawings of an artist named Thomas Nast.  At that time, he was called Father Christmas, and the character of Santa would grow from his image.  Santa is generally recognized as a fat, bearded man who wears red and rides in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.  He is renowned for climbing down the chimneys of homes all around the earth and distributing gifts on Christmas Eve.  Good children wake to find toys and other delights in the stockings they hung over the fireplace, but “naughty” children only receive coal.

Santa Claus is an abominable character not only as a perceived hero, but also as an idol.  Firstly, Claus is a beacon of gluttons; the cause of his abnormal size is never explained in fairy tales, but one can assume that he attained it just as any other obese man has, through poor eating habits and laziness.  Despite his embarrassing physical shortcoming, society still worships Claus as a role model, which sends a deceptive message to children who look up to him.  This, however, is the least of Claus’ sins, for in his Inferno Dante Alighieri wisely placed the souls of the incontinent above the heretics, because the sins of gluttony are not as perverse as heresy, a crime of which Claus is also guilty.  Santa Claus’ discrimination in deciding which children are naughty and nice assumes that the more sinful of human beings are unworthy of receiving a gift.  The tradition of Christmas gift-giving of course stems from the Gospel, in which God gave mankind the best gift of all, His Son.  No man is without sin, and all men need salvation, but in sending Christ God offered to save even the most sinful as long as they believe in Him and the Trinity.  On the contrary, Santa Claus as a god-figure selects which children he believes are worthy of reward on Christmas day, and dismisses whichever he disapproves of, and this preaches a false message to Christian youths about the reality of God and man’s salvation.  It is well known that many children are susceptible to the lies associated with Santa Claus, but even some adults are likely to be misled by this heretical philosophy.  Yet even this transgression by Claus and his followers pales when juxtaposed with the very fact that Santa has replaced the one true and holy God on a day which is meant to honor Him.  Christmas has always been devoted to commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, but modern popular culture has manipulated the date into something else entirely, the celebration of an idol.  A waltz into a retail store at Christmastime reveals hundreds of Claus-related products on shelves, but nary a sight of Christian symbols.  Nearly every Christmas television special focuses on Santa Claus or other mythical figures rather than the holiday’s true meaning.  For this primarily and a host of other reasons, Santa remains uncontested the greatest threat to Christian values in the modern world.

The belief in Santa Claus is often compared to the outrageous myth of the Easter Bunny, but the latter is not nearly as offensive as Santa Claus.  Both figures were invented to shift the focus of their holidays to a false idol, but the media have never embraced the Easter Bunny as they have Santa Claus; to that degree, then, Santa is more dangerous.

One could denounce even further the subtle heresy of the Claustian theology, and speak to exhausting lengths on the incivility of intruding on people’s property, but the idol’s greatest crimes have already been exposed.

And, just so there's no confusion, I actually mean what I say in this invective.  Satan Claus is a demon who ought to burn in Inferno where he belongs.  That's why I'm writing a shockingly original and controversial science-fiction dystopia film about him and his followers.  The greatest downside of living in Southern California, besides losing to Democrats every danged election cycle, is that you can't really shoot a winter apocalypse picture without simulating a snowy environment...

Concerning idols, after watching the first 10 minutes of Never Say Never (and only the first 10 minutes), I have to say that this Justin Bieber fellow ought to retire from the media spotlight, if not guard his soul, then at least to protect those of some others, for there are thousands, maybe millions of girls out there who figuratively worship him as a deity.  It's really rather sad; he's a self-proclaimed Christian, but he could be the doom of many an adolescent girl.  I'm not saying that you can't admire him or listen to his "music" (although I strongly discourage the latter); I'm only making the point that some people follow him to such an extent that it's a form of idolatry.  And no, I don't think he made a baby, baby, boooooo...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Happy birthday, Halo

Here's to the greatest video game series objectively of all time.

I LITERALLY cannot wait to play the original rendition of this franchise.  No, really, I'll LIKE LITERALLY die if I don't pick up my copy of Halo Anniversary on launch day.  (Are you picking up on my valley girl sarcasm here?)

But seriously, Halo is definitely the best thing that ever happened to console video gaming.  The saga as a whole has the greatest production value of any video game series ever, and while you play through the campaign you feel as though you're influencing the outcome of a high-quality science-fiction epic, rather than merely shooting up alien scum in a poorly plotted FPS mess with one-dimensional heroes.  Weighty themes permeate the series, including soldier augmentation for pragmatic purposes, immortality, genocide, indoctrination into war, courage in the face of immeasurable fear, and heck, even a few Biblical references are thrown into the story.

Halo 3: ODST didn't take itself as seriously as the trilogy or Reach, and its method of nonlinear storytelling through flashbacks was actually highly effective.  The game felt more like a noir, mystery movie than its predecessors, with a little bit of Hollywood quality visual effects thrown in for good measure during action-heavy sequences.  It didn't hurt that the soundtrack was exhilarating.  This installment was incredible, and second only to Portal 2 as the most cinematic game I've ever played.

So let's celebrate ten years of the wonder that has been Bungie's Halo.  Now if I could only secure my weekend again in the frenzy of this TP debate world...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The 10 Rottenest Tomatoes

Notice: kind of outdated as of 2014.  I have endured a crapload of cinematic trash in the two and a half years since this was first posted.

I've seen two particularly bad movies this month, which have together prompted me to compile my official worst-of list for films.  Allow me to show you my bottom 10.  Some disclaimers before we proceed: All of these movies must have been released to the public in theaters, otherwise every single Disney Channel "sitcomovie" would be on this list.  This is only a list of movies I've seen; that's why Arthur Christmas and Spy Kids 4D aren't on here.  I have judged these movies by motive first and execution second, so while Wall-e certainly looked better animation-wise and had better sound effects than some of the movies lower on this list, it sought to offend audience members and belonged higher on the list.  Astro Boy wanted to brainwash kids, while Clone Wars only wanted to entertain them; therefore, Astro Boy belongs higher.  If you know any movies you think belong on this list, shoot me a comment and I'll NOT check them out.

1. Astro Boy
This movie was not just technically horrendous, it was philosophically wrong and appallingly pagan.  The animation, plot, script, score, and voice acting were all bottom-notch, but the filmmakers also decided to send the message to kiddies that robots, man-made, unemotional objects, can be just as pure and noble as human beings, who are created by God.  In fact, in Astro Boy’s case, they can actually surpass human beings, and fire machine guns in their butts!  Heresy.

2. Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Whose idea was it to make a PG-13 (should have been), sex-and-violence-packed movie out of an already junky children’s book?

3. Happy Feet
We humans are so environmentally evil and irresponsible we needed an animated movie about singing/rapping/dancing penguins to enlighten us as to our wrongdoing.  This love letter to Al Gore was painful to the eyes and the ears.  The 2nd incarnation of this bomb looks even worse with a global warming theme.  Spare the kids from the heathen indoctrination.

4. Wall-e
Once again, good robots solve for evil, irresponsible, polluting humans’ problems.  Pixar also constantly reminded Americans of their obesity issues throughout this “film”.  I remember that this movie looked appealing to eyes (though not nearly as detailed and colorful as Kung Fu Panda), but the depiction of humanity and undisguised attempt to make viewers feel guilty about themselves is unforgivable.

5. The Day the Earth Stood Still
I wouldn’t consider this as bad as some of the other films on the list if it weren’t based on a 1951 classic of the same name.  This Keanu Reeves remake completely changes the meaning of the original film, which was about man’s disposition to fear and distrust all strangers, and turns it into a simplistic and preachy environmentalist picture where the alien Klaatu is sent to eradicate all human life with the goal of saving the rest of Earth.  I remember Keanu (a sub-par actor, by the way) telling a scientist something like this: “If you live, the Earth dies.  If you die, the Earth survives.”  Being ordered to recycle during a movie is not my idea of entertainment.

Oh, and the behind-the-scenes features on the DVD show the special effects people setting a real car on fire and pulling it across a grass field.  Ethan hypocrites.

6. The Seeker
Another awful movie marketed at kids.  I think I was 12 when I read The Dark is Rising and wrestled my grandmother into taking me to see the Hollywood adaptation.  I wish I saw the trailer first.  “Based on the name of the main character of the book.”

7. Never Say Never Again
This has to be the worst James Bond movie ever made.  My dad and I used the fast-forward-button most readily, simply because the movie is extremely boring and loaded to the max with unnecessary footage.  I could honestly cut this action-and-adventure movie down to 15 minutes or less, and that's because we get one gratuitous sex scene after another with no character development in the long run for Bond, his date(s), or his nemesis.  Bond remains a womanizing loser throughout the whole movie, his women remain 1-dimensional hotties in (or out of) swimsuits, and the villain (who's arguably no less admirable than Bond) is a completely forgettable bad guy without any interesting motive, other than the usual, stereotypical desire for riches and power.  Also, for a James Bond movie, there's hardly any action.  I remember at most 5 action sequences in this movie, and none lasted for more than 5 minutes.  The special effects are pathetic as well.

(The poster isn't appropriate for my PG, occasionally PG-13 blog.)

8. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
This was an obscene, licentious, ridiculously profane piece o' poo, which Dreamworks dared to market towards children under the age of 13.  All of the first movie's charm was replaced with unnecessary cussing, disgusting sex, nearly incessant OMGing, racist Jar Jar Binks sidekicks, and tiresome documentation of the escapades of unremarkable, deviant college students, in a movie supposedly about transforming robots.

9. The Last Airbender
This movie is an unmitigated disaster, and boasts probably the worst acting in film history.  The kids don’t so much play their parts as recite their lines in front of the camera in an always dull, emotion-washed voice with minimal adjustments in facial expression to express surprise, confusion, or happiness.  Admittedly, they’re not given much to work with, as the script is pathetic, loaded with corny dialogue and protracted explanatory speeches about the history of the Avatar world.  I.e., we don’t actually witness on film the fire nation declaring war on the other 3 tribes and terrorizing the land; we only hear Aang’s belabored explanations of those events.  Here’s one of Airbender’s cheesier conversations:
Aang: Do you have a spiritual place where I can meditate?
Moon-fish-girl: Oh, yes, we have a VERY SPIRITUAL place.

The Author’s remedy for this corny and repetitive dilemma:
Aang: I need to meditate.
Moon-fish-girl: We have just the place.

Exchanges like the one above combined with horrible acting – oh, and some dreadful dancing – did manage to garner some unintended laughs from me, so I do recommend renting Airbender (only for free!) if cheap entertainment is desired, despite its standing as one of the worst movies ever made.

10. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Rather than putting this in theaters, George Lucas should have just made this the pilot to the Clone Wars TV show (which is unbearably corny).  This movie and The Last Airbender are on similar ground, but The Clone Wars is worse because it was based on good source material and had cinematic potential.  The Last Airbender is based on the first season of a rather cruddy Nickelodeon anime series (sorry, Blake), and thus has more room in my heart for forgiveness.  Edit: The Last Airbender was given a worthless 3D downgrade, and is guilty of robbing some gullible audiences of an extra 4 dollars.  Airbender's worse on that account.

Dishonorable mentions

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Just watched this a few nights ago.  Review hopefully coming soon.  Précis-review: Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is a jumbled mess of poor cinematography, weak characters, cliché plotline, and corny references to the 1968 classic.  By giving the human characters speech, removing the themes of evolution, and making the apes only superior to the humans in their strength, not intelligence, the story is also stripped of all the drama it previously possessed.

Prince Caspian (2008)
A Disneyized retelling of C.S. Lewis’ powerful novel, this butchered all the theological themes presented in the book.  This brilliant article superbly summarizes my feelings about the book.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension
Who knew that a character with such an incredible name like Buckaroo Banzai could be given such a laughable treatment of a movie.  Buckaroo Banzai is an 80's cult "classic", and it definitely falls into the "so bad it's awesome" category of films.  Who exactly is Buckaroo Banzai?  Well, I wish I could tell you, but the movie does a really poor job of explaining who the heck its protagonist is and what his occupation is.  Wikipedia describes Buckaroo as "a renaissance man, a top neurosurgeon, particle physicist, race car driver, rock star and comic book hero."  While we were watching the film, my dad suggested to me that maybe the movie was just a big insider's joke for readers of the Buckaroo comic books.  Oddly enough, Buckaroo Banzai was made to sell comic books, not the other way around... anyway, the movie, largely bereft of any sort of plot structure or character development beyond the presence of a hero and a villain, boasts plenty of shaky camera, unexciting action sequences, cheesy alien makeup (there's also a brain thingy in the beginning and a slug-creature later on), dialogue so corny it's often outrageous ("Laugh a-while you can, monkey-boy."), hysterically bad cinematography work (Close-ups of Buckaroo's eyes and mouth during a torture scene in "the shock tower"), abysmal CGI, an unfitting soundtrack, and a nearly incomprehensible story line.  How can I enumerate all these flaws but still leave Banzai out of the bottom 10?  My reason is that Buckaroo Banzai is a true joy to watch.  As I stated earlier, it's so bad that it's awesome.  It's definitely worth a recording or rental if you're feeling down and need to smile.  It's just a shame that director W.B. Richter didn't make enough dough to helm the sequel promised before the film's credits.  As far as comic book heroes go, Indiana Jones was far more popular in his own time.

A Dog of Flanders (1999)
Star Wars meets "a boy and his dog" story.  It boasts one of the cheesiest plots ever, and the camera work looks as though it was done by a 5 year old.  Just watch the dance in the gypsy camp.  I chuckle at the memory.


A kiddie story about, well, something trite having to do with girl power. Here's my summary: a mischievous British girl outwits and escapes a pair of bumbling dog-catchers-turned-kidnappers, who end up driving into a river and getting all wet.

All the original Star Trek movies (yeah, even Kahn)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Portal: Sweet "short"cake

The Author is proud to present his first video game review ever.

Portal presents some of the best 4-5 hours you’ll ever spend playing a video game; and along with Bungie’s Halo 3: ODST and Halo Reach, it is one of the most cinematic video games ever created.  As you progress through the game, and the Aperture Science testing environment twists from playful into perilous, you begin to feel like you’re watching a high-quality movie, a driving science-fiction thriller complete with elements from Kubrick’s 2001.  I dare say, Valve’s Portal is the finest and most original puzzle game of all, even surpassing the Myst series and original Angry Birds (OK, pleasant as the handheld game is, it can’t compare to Myst).  My dad, although he hasn’t yet tried Portal, would probably argue its standing to Myst with me, but I believe that Portal has a better-paced story than all the computer games and is less demanding on the brain.  It all depends on whether you’re a casual or hardcore puzzle-solver; if backtracking, note-taking, and long, laborious experimentation is to your liking, then you’ll enjoy Myst more.  Portal is short, sweet, accessible to most gamers, and doesn’t take a whole lot of toll on the mind.

When you begin the game’s story, your player awakes in a bright room with glass walls.  You have no idea how you got where you are, or why you’re there, but a loud, computerized voice shortly informs you that you are a test subject for a company called Aperture Science, and that the “Enrichment Center” will have you undergoing several tests involving portals.  “These inter-dimensional gates have proven to be completely safe.”  At most there will be two portals opened in any room of the game environment, colored blue and orange.  The idea is simple: enter one glowing oval doorway and you exit the other.  Anyway, you decide to cooperate with the A.I., called GLaDOS, and you gradually advance through the different test chambers of Aperture Science Laboratories. Eventually you acquire your own Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (or ASHPD for short), with which you can create your own portals in order to solve puzzles and progress through levels.  GLaDOS, who speaks most of the time in an emotionally washed feminine voice, at first seems helpful and friendly to you, but as the game progresses, she takes on a more sinister and hostile disposure.  She says thus much about the murky green water filling many of the test chambers: “Please note that any appearance of danger is only a means to enhance your testing experience.”  The first time you really become aware that you’re fighting for survival is when GLaDOS inconveniently replaces a test chamber with “a live fire course designed for military androids”, a room packed with destructive but oddly polite turret-bots, who apologize after firing on you: “No hard feelings.”  At this point, the game is remarkably reminiscent of the second half of 2001: A Space Odyssey, wherein the humans’ greatest robotic ally is corrupted and viciously turns on its makers.  But Portal is honestly many times better than that bore of a film.

Wikipedia has described in great depth the gameplay and tricks of Portal, so that site or the downloadable demo are the best places to learn more about the fictional science of Portals.  I’ll briefly describe one stunt that is very cool to execute with Portals.  First you fire a portal to the bottom of a cliff somewhere.  Then find any spot on a wall, or possibly the floor, that suits your fancy, and shoot another portal there.  By jumping off the cliff and entering the first portal you placed, you’ll come hurdling out of the second, either flying out of the floor and into the air, or leaping across a chasm through the wall.  Clearly it’s all about how “portals affect forward momentum.”  Awesome, huh?  The same move can be done with inanimate objects like weighted storage cubes or GLaDOS’ ever watching cameras scattered throughout the laboratory (yes, she has eyes everywhere just like Hal).

The writing of the game is very witty, and while I wouldn’t it call it hilarious or laugh-inducing like some other fans of the game, it’ll definitely smack a few smiles on your face.  There are only two characters in the story, yourself and GLaDOS, and the A.I.’s character is extremely well developed.  She is sarcastic, deceiving, tyrannical, flattering, and rather immature, despite having a ridiculously large vocabulary.  “Despite what we said earlier, our statement that we would not be monitoring this test chamber was an outright fabrication.  As part of required test protocol, we will stop enhancing the truth in 3...2…buzzzzz.”  “Very impressive.  You remain resolute and resourceful in an atmosphere of extreme pessimism.”  Your player, a woman named Chell (although her name isn’t mentioned in the game), never speaks, a wise decision which has worked massively in other games like the aforementioned Myst games and ODST.

Portal is a near perfect game, but if I can find something to complain about, it’s the length.  If you play through Portal quickly and don’t take too much time to lovingly experience the atmosphere (like I did), you can complete it in about 4 hours.  It took me around 300 minutes to complete the game the first time through, and I didn’t rush.  Because of this, Portal is closer to a long movie that you play than a normal video game.  Another beef I had with the game was the overuse of repeated graffiti.  The first time you find the sentence, “The cake is a lie,” scribbled on an otherwise clean concrete wall, you are pleasantly surprised, and that gets you thinking about the reward GLaDOS continually promises you to motivate your progression through the test chambers.  But after a dozen more times of viewing the same phrase, it begins to lose its charm.  Also, there’s the obvious fact that Portal has little to no replay value, depending on how much you love the game, because once you’ve solved the puzzles, it’s not that difficult to complete them again.

Luckily, Valve released a special edition of sorts for Portal to remedy the problem involving replay value.  Portal: Still Alive has 14 extra test chambers to traverse, which are still fun and challenging although they lack dialogue and don’t tie into the main story of the game.  The Still Alive version, which is downloadable as an “arcade” game from Xbox Live and the Playstation Network (boo!), also includes interesting commentary from the developers and voice actress Ellen McLain which can be accessed while playing the campaign.

So, if you’ve mastered the Halo series and want to try a different kind of first-person game with unique gameplay, witty writing, and intriguing graphics (I regret squeezing this into my epilogue paragraph, but I have to say: the environments of both Portal games are awesome and sometimes unnerving), take Portal for a spin.  It truly is a masterpiece.


Update: I got Portal 2 just a few weeks ago and it's my opinion that it's the best game ever made.  I've actually laughed out loud a couple times during this one.  Here are two of the better quotes from the game:
Glados: This next test involves turrets.  You remember them; they're those white, spherical things that are full of bullets - oh, wait - that's you in 5 seconds.
Same: Look, we've both said some things that you'll regret, but I think we can put our differences behind us - for science, you monster.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 15th is...

NOT a Tuesday.

Hey, George Noory, I think aliens came in the middle of the night and messed up our calendars.  Or maybe Johnny Depp made this poster.  He was dumb enough to star in a 4th Pirates movie.  Who knows?  BTW, "This Year's Best Family Film" is taken from a website called  You decide whether that's a credible source or not.  I think not, as more respected critics bashed the film for being marketed to kids, but containing an abundance of obscenities, primarily H-words, not to mention that the humor of the film mostly comes from Western insider jokes.  However, Rango doubtless will be the year's best ANIMATED film, seeing how all we've gotten so far is Rio and Cars 2, with Puss in Boots (The 5th in the Shrek saga) and Happy Feet 2 (The 1st was an epic failure of a movie on every single level).  Kung Fu Panda 2 doesn't look awful, but it is an unnecessary sequel, and Rango is an original idea.  Gee, what is it with sequels now in Hollywood?  I guess people don't want to use their heads and brainstorm new concepts for films.  That's difficult.

Friday, June 24, 2011

American Judge: A handbook

My interest in American Idol knockoff shows was aroused when my family and I watched one on NBC earlier this week.  “The Voice” was the only thing currently on a hotel television which was barren of any good channels.  Anyway, the show was serious garbage.  It took everything already bad about American Idol and America’s Got Talent (Heck, no it doesn’t.) and made it worse.  The camera angles, on-stage light shows, and formula of the show were all straight from Idol.  The host, so-named Bryan Lakecrest by us, tried to comb his hair and speak just like Ryan Seacrest, and the “esteemed panel of judges” was a cheap rip-off of Idol as well.  We were cracking jokes and mocking the program all the way through it.  The funniest part of it was when they showed live tweets halfway through the hour.  The idiotic things people write on social networking sites…

So, do you have what it takes?  Check out these guidelines if you want to be the next judge on an American “singing” reality show.  Simon Cowell is of course the exception to these principles, as well as Piers Morgan, who basically tries to copy him.


1. You must be one of the following: (a) an inarticulate buffoon (Randy Jackson), (b) a friendly, smiley, but dim cheerleader (Paula Abdul and nearly all female judges); (c) a potty mouthed ex-rocker (Steven Tyler or the proposed Howard Stern, who isn’t a rocker but is pretty much the most obscene radio host on the planet).

Judicial techniques-

2. If you can’t honestly say anything positive about a contestant’s singing, say it dishonestly.

3. If the song is actually one people have heard before, say it was the best version you’ve ever heard.  Maybe add that the original artist would be proud.

4. If you really want to push the truth, say that the contestant has “one of the best singing voices ever”.  Some crowds really buy into this garbage.

Escape routes for 2.-

5. You may make irrelevant comments about the contestant’s hairstyle, dress, shoes, and general attire, while the camera zooms in on those areas.

6. If the contestant is not wearing anything of remote interest, you may make nice, seemingly related comments about the song, especially if it was a song about babies or hurricanes.  If the song was built around a sleeping bag, do your best to commend it, and no one will blame you if you sound unconvincing.

7. If the contestants were playing or pretending to play an instrument (it’s customary in this era of singing shows), tell them they rocked their instrument (if not their vocals).

8. If the contestant danced a lot on stage, tell them they had “sweet moves”, even though you can’t watch their moves on an iPod or CD player.  This red herring was practiced to great effect by Paula during her stint on Idol.

9. If a bald contestant has worn a hat all throughout the season and suddenly takes it off, try to make as big a deal out of it as you can.  (I could hardly believe this moronic tangent came up on the show.)

Tips on delivery and diction-

10. Use descriptive words such as “amazing” or “beautiful” in your evaluation of the contestant’s performance. (“Excruciating” is a Simon exclusive. “Sorry.”)

11. If you have a monosyllabic vocabulary which doesn’t include those big words in 10., don’t be afraid to let out your “yos”, “dudes”, “dogs” and “likes” in all their uneducated glory.  95+% of America has you in good company.

12. Coca Cola helps you organize your thoughts and present them in a coherent manner.  Take a sip every now and then for the camera.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 30th is...

National no improper use of "like" day!

That can also extend to include no slang uses of "all", "yeah", or just "ya' know"s in general.  I was aware of this plague before I started to go to school, but that just reinforced my feelings about it.  As an Author, I am seriously peeved.

So, if you ever have time, please forward this blog post to all emails in your address book, with the following message: "I pledge to withhold from all manners of poor English for a single day, according to national no improper use of 'like' day, begun by Josephos Rex of The Author's Files."  If you pledge something, that'll automatically ignite anyone's interest.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29th is...

National no-makeup day!

Starting now, 3-29 on the calendar is national no-makeup day.  I don't believe anyone else has claimed this date (including those "Talk like a pirate day" guys), so I'm going to go ahead and do it.  WHY do I impose this horrible punishment on so many people?  Because I'm sick of seeing "false faces" at school, and God makes women beautiful without any eyeliner, lipstick, or other stuff.

Like nobuddy claimed 2morrow either, so I'm like going 2 try that too, ya' know?  March 30th is all... guess.  And come back tomorrow to see.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Defending Ms. Rowling

Lately, there's been some debate going on in The Real World about the content of the Harry Potter series of films and books.  Back in late November, I tried to start a room dedicated to the latest Harry Potter movie in a generic internet messageboard.  As you will see below, a Christian reader immediately piped up, outraged that such a topic could spring.  In the ensuing conversation, I prove to a series of people that the Potter films, and books in particular, are not sinful, anti-Christ, pagan scripture... I just used hyperbole, but whatever.  So do those wise men who stress the "growing influence of Wiccan practices in modern society.  Parents should be concerned!!"  Anyway, why should I stop at persuading this group?  I could help shielding parents in Christian homes around the world to see the truth.  ; )

I don't really expect to change anybody's mind with my argument.  I was basically writing for the sake of debate.  People of this sort aren't inclined to alter their opinion about such "delicate" subjects.  But I do wish they'd at least refrain from declaring J.K. Rowling a pagan without more solid evidence than the fact that she's created a fantasy world.

The proofs of the prosecuting party have been paraphrased for privacy.

Stereotypical Christian reader: Harry Potter is not worth reading or watching because there is no clear distinction between good and evil in the series.  Also, Rowling is obviously not a believer, so Christians should employ caution in reading her works, or not read them at all.

The Author: Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  I don't think you can determine anything about J.K. Rowling's religion from reading the Harry Potter series, as it's obviously complete fantasy and not written seriously.  She's writing fiction and she knows it.  It's not a Christian series of books, but I don't think it's a pagan one either.  The word "God" is never used to my recollection, but the author never says there isn't one.  And there are some small themes that encourage virtue.  The bad guy in the Harry Potter novels is on a quest for immortality, and he's willing to hurt other people to achieve that goal.  Harry and his friends often put their lives in danger trying to stop the enemy, knowing that if they succeed they will have done a service to others.  They're honorable characters for that reason.  I'm certainly not suggesting the books as a substitute for C.S. Lewis' novels, but they are entertaining and not at all damaging to one's Christianity, I think.  What's wrong with witches in fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, or fairy godmothers in Cinderella?

Another stereotypical Christian reader: Everyone’s worldview can be determined through their writings, and this principle applies to Rowling also.  The lack of stating that a God exists or including him in one’s speech and writing is just as harmful to one’s soul as coming out and saying that he isn’t real.  If this weren’t enough, God clearly condemns witchcraft in the Bible.  Galatians 5: 19-21 says, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.”  A book or movie should not be experienced merely because it has several positive themes, and in the case of Harry Potter, the blacks outweigh the whites.  I’ve also heard of people who become absolutely obsessed with these stories.  Reading the books and seeing the films is not fine if you turn into a person who can think only of the next release in the franchise.  This would be paying more attention to worldly things than God.

The Author: I'm glad you were honest and admitted that you've neither read the books or seen the movie.  To tell the truth, I think the only people who speak out against the witchcraft element in the Potter series are those who haven't read it, because none of the sorcery in the series is insulting to Christians or applicable to those bible verses.  The way I translate those messages, God doesn't want his people to perform rituals and practices With An Aim to be gods themselves.  The magic in Potter isn't generally used with that goal in mind, except by The Dark Lord, whose mission is to become immortal.  The witches and wizards in Potter, when stripped of their abilities, are really like normal human beings.  They mostly share the same worldview and morals as muggles, or non-magical folk.  Their magic assists them in performing everyday tasks, like washing dishes, cooking, repairing broken objects, but only the dark wizards seek to lord their powers over others, magically enabled or not.  The magical folk for the most part live inconspicuous and humble lives, never making arrogant demonstrations of their power to muggles.  They don't interfere in the muggles' goverment, personal lives, or religious beliefs (although religion is never a part of the series).  I may have interpreted those bible verses wrongly, but I don't think the witchcraft in Harry Potter is of the type that they mention.  No one is sacrificed in the fire.  : )  In fact, much of the magic is playful and lighthearted, from the soccer/baseball game the wizards play on broomsticks to the art of transfiguration, morphing a pot into a bird for instance.

As for people becoming obsessed with this series, I agree there are better things to be a follower of, but will Harry Potter really encourage them to learn witchcraft and wizardry?  I don't think so.  Any sane person knows Harry's world is fake, and completely fictional.  If you're a really devoted believer, and choose only to read specifically Christian books, then you'll miss out on a lot of great literature.  The Iliad and the Odyssey, The Three Theban Plays, The Oresteia, any of Shakespeare's stuff, Fahrenheit 451; these are all very good stories, even if they don't encourage Christianity.  There's a reason we study them in a "Great Books" class.  Harry Potter is a fun series.  It's a well-written tale of good vs. evil, and in the end, the power of Love is stronger than any of the evils the bad guys can act.  It doesn't encourage Christianity, but neither does it any other religion, and it doesn't deny the existence of salvation or Jesus.

Yet another stereotypical Christian reader: "It's a well-written tale of good vs. evil."  This is why I choose not to read the Harry Potter books.  The books try to make any form of magic ok as long as it’s not employed to gain power.  God hates everything to do with witchcraft, even when it’s seemingly harmless.  2 Chronicles 33:6 "He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists.  He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger."  In Galatians 5:19-21 "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."  Deuteronomy 18:13-15 "You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him."

"Any sane person knows Harry's world is fake, and completely fictional."  Although Harry’s world is pretend, that doesn’t mean that witchcraft is not alive and real.  Harry Potter fans, although they realize that Potter’s world is fiction, may be tempted to experiment in real, immoral practices.

“If you're a really devoted believer, and choose only to read specifically Christian books, then you'll miss out on a lot of great literature.  The Iliad and the Odyssey, The Three Theban Plays, The Oresteia, any of Shakespeare's stuff, Fahrenheit 451; these are all very good stories, even if they don't encourage Christianity.”  I repeat what someone said earlier.  A book should not be read merely for the presence of several positive themes.  A book should be read if it has something to spread of value, whether it be history, philosophy, religion, or something else.  The documents we are reading in Great Books have stood the test of time.  In the long run, Harry Potter is just a fun read.

The Author: Well, if absolutely all magic, witchcraft, and wizardry is evil, then how do Harry Potter haters explain the way that Gandalf is a "good" wizard?  How is the cause for which he uses his powers better in the eyes of God than than the purpose of Saruman?  Why is Harry Potter evil, and Gandalf not?

"Although Harry’s world is pretend, that doesn’t mean that witchcraft is not alive and real.  Harry Potter fans, although they realize that Potter’s world is fiction, may be tempted to experiment in real, immoral practices." Umm, I believe the most magic you'll find in this world is at Las Vegas, at least to my 9th grade knowledge.  The majority of people buying costumes, wands, cauldrons, action figures, and props will probably be doing so because they're Potter fans and collectors, not because they think these toys actually work.

I do think that if you only read specifically Christian novels, then you WILL miss out on a lot of good literature.  And if you read only "great books", then you will run out of books pretty quickly.  Harry Potter will probably not survive as long as Shakespeare's works for instance, and definitely not as long as Homer, Sohpocles, Virgil etc.  But it's still a great read. It does have something to say of value, I think, and I would call it "literature".

God also condemns murder, adultery, and theft, doesn't he?  Yet we read about those crimes sometimes.  And if we're mature, we're not inspired to act like those people.  Just because we read or hear about such heinous criminals and sinners, that doesn't make us one of them.  What's wrong with reading about witchcraft if we read about, say, Agamemnon and his family in the Oresteia?  We read plenty of myths about the Greeks gods, but do we believe them?  Will we believe any of the false messages that Rowling tries to spread in the Potter series?  But then I've already established that the magic of Harry Potter is not Christ-denying.  I think one of the reasons God condemned the sort of sorcery he described was because the people who tried to practice it were pagans who worshipped their craft.  None of the Potter characters have witchcraft/wizardry as their religion.

Your soul is not in danger if you read or watch this series.  The magic described herein is no worse than that in The Lord of the Rings.  You should not judge the books unless you yourself have tasted them.  Even more, you should definitely not criticize the author, which is unfair unless you've any material to back up your claims.

One more stereotypical Christian reader: Let’s ponder two questions.  Does The Bible ever describe such a thing as “white” magic?  Second, does God ever require use to sin to bring about good?  Do the ends ever justify the means?

Consider these following bible verses:
Ephesians 5:1, 3, 8, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16
1: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children...
3: But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among the saints
8: for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light
9: for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth
10: trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord
11: and do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;
12: for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret
15: Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise
16: making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

(Galatians verse we’ve seen twice before in this debate)
Philippians 4:8
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.

The Author: Well, it’s Christmas break, and I can finally assemble a response to the last message.  I’ve read up on the subject and have gathered several testimonies to support my view.

I have no bible verses in my head which confirm "good" magic.  In fact, nobody arguing for the magic of Harry Potter can produce verses which support it.  This is because flying broomsticks and magic wands are just never promoted in the Bible, obviously for the simple reason that they’re not real.  It doesn’t condemn broomsticks or wands either.  Maybe it’s about time we really deduce how the word “witchcraft” is defined in The Holy Word.

Sasha in this essay at the Christian fantasy review blog,, says, “In the real world, we as Christians know that witchcraft is evil.  What are the definitional characteristics of real-world occultic witchcraft?  It is, quite simply, forbidden supernatural power derived from a spiritual source.  In our world, witches get their un-natural power from demons or ambiguous spiritual forces, and they seek this power contrary to the command of God.  In some small part of fantasy literature, the magic portrayed is extremely similar or identical to the real-world occult.  Usually such a story takes place in our own world and the magic is in form and source the same as the witchcraft forbidden from the Bible.  Such magic is obviously evil.  Note, though, that all parts of the definition must be met for this sort of magic in fantasy to be automatically classified as bad.  The supernatural power must be obtained from a spiritual source in a forbidden manner.”

Some may disagree with this definition, but it makes great sense to me.  If someone believes that “witchcraft” means absolutely all magic, and therefore all magic must be evil, Sasha has an answer to that too. “What is magic?  For the purposes of this essay, I will define magic as that which breaks real-world rules or the laws of nature in our own world.  Anything ‘supernatural’ — that is, outside of the natural way of things in our universe — counts. (Notice that under this definition, miracles such as Jesus performed are ‘magic’.)” Note especially that final line.

Anyone who has read or seen the Potter series clearly knows that the “magic” does not come from the devil or Satan worship.  In the volume 24, no. 4 issue of Christian Research Journal, Mark and Carol Hausmann Ryan stated, “The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series are works of fantasy.  In both, the authors create multidimensional worlds peopled with various creatures, many of whom use magical powers to affect physical changes in their world.  Some of these creatures are bad and use their powers for evil, and some of these creatures are good and use their powers to battle evil.  The “magical” powers are “natural” attributes of the respective fantasy worlds in which they operate.  In this sense the magic is more akin to the ability of animals to speak and wear clothes in children’s literature such as The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh.  Within the context of the world of the story, clothed talking animals are not supernatural, occult aberrations but the normal state of affairs.  In other words, the magic is mechanistic, not occult: the make-believe laws that govern their use in these make-believe worlds are physical laws, not spiritual or moral laws.  These practices are not the same as the occult-based wizardry and sorcery practiced in the real world by real people and condemned in the Bible (which illumines the real world).”

Truly, it’d be a shame if God condemned all magical characters in writing.  We’d have to toss away Mr. Toad and Piglet, discard Merlin, and ignore Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.

Some people argue that Harry Potter is not to be touched because the magic of Rowling’s series resembles the practices of real-life “Wiccans”.  They say, “Rowling has done her research well.”  This is ludicrous.  Much of Potter’s magic could have been taken out of an old Looney Tunes episode, from the potion-brewing to the flying broomsticks to the spell-casting.  The author did not have to go around asking “witches” how they do this and that.  In fact, she couldn’t.  No person can describe what flying on a broomstick feels like because no one has done it.  Neither could Rowling inquire how witches apparate (or warp) from one location to another.  It just isn’t done.  Those abilities exist only in the world of fantasy.

If, after all this you still believe that Harry’s magic is evil, in response to “not dwelling on evil things”, I must highly recommend a book called The Giver (review coming up sometime not so soon in sci-fi weeks).  It’s about, among other things, how man tries to completely purge his world of sin and suffering.  His attempts, however, result in humans becoming dull and emotionless.  It’s a very profound and thought-provoking book, and one of the main messages is that without evil there can be no good, and anyone who tries to deny man’s sinfulness is foolish.  You can’t cover up evil and pretend that it doesn’t exist.  No one should only read about good, positive role models (kind of like Harry) and shun any and all material having to do with evil.  You shouldn’t associate with evildoers for sure.  God tells us not to.  But I don’t see how reading or watching accounts about them is sinful, when they’re not designed to induce desire for that certain behavior.

And so ends the great Harry Potter controversy.