Monday, November 28, 2011

A Shout-Out to Other Blogs


I wanted to create a post on this blog where I can link and call attention to the blogs of others. Be they my friends, family, or simply blogs that I enjoy a lot, I like the idea of being able to share their amazing qualities with others out there.

I expect I'll come back to this post in the future to edit and add blogs, but for now I only have one I want to call attention to:

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http://classymodernista.wordpress.com/

Maintained by a close friend of mine, this blog is a collection of her musings on life and all of its myriad ways. Just recently she talked about the webcomic "xkcd", a specific comic from it, and how thought-provoking it was. I look forward to reading further posts from her in the future!

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To those others who write on this blog, feel free to let me know if you think there are some others who deserve attention and praise.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Tomb

Written by Joe the Revelator



Supernatural detective novels have become a fad of late. Some are marketed as thrillers or horror, or fall into the ever-expanding sub genre "paranormal", right next to vampires and little gray aliens.

For being a supernatural, paranormal, detective thriller...thing, The Tomb does a wonderful job of downplaying the supernatural aspect. In fact, the author, F. Paul Wilson, drops tidbits of clues and glimpses into the eerie weirdness of the case with subtlety, as not to distract from the plot. The effect is impressive.


Repairman Jack

Calling Jack a private investigator wouldn't do him justice. Nor would hitman, bodyguard, or con-artist be accurate. Jack is a repairman, in the sense that he repairs sticky situations for a substantial fee.

Lose a precious family heirloom? Jack can get it back. Been cheated out of your wages by a deadbeat boss? Jack can trick him into paying it off, and then some. Looking for vengeance against a mugger who assaulted your aging grandmother? Well, Jack isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. If the price is right and the job fits his strict moral code, Jack will "fix" just about anyone.

Jack's only real issue, aside from his addiction to shopping for Victorian furniture and movie memorabilia, lies in his off-the-job relationships. Jack's had a hard breakup recently. His fiance' happened to be dusting his apartment when she stumbled across his hidden cache' of guns and knives, and various other tools of his trade. Convincing her to take him back proves to be as tough as any case he's worked yet.



A one-armed Indian walks into a bar...

In walks an Indian, an enigma of a man and emphatically traditionalist, who demands that Jack locate a stolen necklace. Jack accepts the job, in part because of the envelope of money thrown his way. In turn he quickly becomes drawn into a series of mysterious disappearances which seem to be perpetrated by nightmarish creatures with glowing yellow eyes. Ever the pragmatist, Jack refuses to believe in the night-stalking bogymen. That is until they begin to hunt his loved ones.

One of my favorite things about The Tomb is the author's realistic approach to Jack's life as a repairman. He goes into detail about the necessity of living "off the grid", as well as maintaining multiple phone numbers, dummy accounts, and a network of contacts. When Jack picks a lock to sneak into an apartment, it's not a simple *click*. He muses about the difficulty of different lock types, and the time it takes to bypass brand-name mechanisms. He goes into detail about cases he's solved, and the oddities of street life.


He's one call away.

I would recommend The Tomb to almost anyone, not just mystery enthusiasts. The writing style is accessible, full of pulp, and the characters are original. Jack's violent outbursts feel justified, especially in light of the criminals he's pursuing, and are balanced by his wit and mirth.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.


Some years ago I was introduced to the biographer, Ron Chernow, through his book on Alexander Hamilton. Surprisingly eloquent and able to articulate simply the most complicated financial issues facing a young America and that Secretary of Treasury, I was impressed enough by his writing and explanatory power to consider reading another of his biographies. Faced with a biography of George Washington, the House of Morgan (the rich Morgan bankers of the late 1800s), or John D. Rockefeller Sr., I decided to venture beyond my comfort zone.

The easy choice was Washington. As one of the few remaining founding fathers of whom I've yet to read a biography, Washington would have served that purpose nicely and easily for the political history buff that I am. But yet Rockefeller was who I settled on. Feeling it would be more personal than a biography on an entire family like the Morgan tome, I decided that Rockefeller would be my choice for the first business biography I've ever read. And even though I was out of my comfort zone in the arena of business dealings and the never-ending quest for profit, I managed to find the Rockefeller story an incredibly compelling one.
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The Ramifications of Rockefeller

I'm not going to summarize Rockefeller's life. It was long, impressive, and involved a great number of crazy events, but you can read the book for that. Instead, I'm going to talk about what I drew from the man's career, experiences, and wealth that constantly grew for as long as he was alive.

Rockefeller was a man who was near obsessive-compulsive in the pursuit of perfection. This expressed itself in his personal life, but perhaps most clearly in the business realm which he dominated. From a lowly bookkeeper, Rockefeller ventured into the oil industry, carefully overwhelmed and co-opted rivals, took over railroads so as to lower the rates they wielded against him, and eventually became one of the richest men alive at the helm of a United States oil monopoly that was competitive and powerful at a worldwide level.

The problem was that, in the innocent aims of running a business to the best of his ability, Rockefeller inadvertently annihilated competitors, crushed the hopes of small business owners of many different products, and challenged American conceptions of capitalism. Through Rockefeller and the business trusts (conglomerate monopolies) of the time, we see how the chaotic nature and ups and downs of a free market economy actually resulted, not in healthy competition, but in vast alliances of business owners who sought to bring order to the system, even at the cost of any new entrants to the field.
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The Sympathetic

Rockefeller, through the enormous trust he created in the Standard Oil Company, merely wanted to be the best at what he did. He was devoutly religious, held himself to a humble and Protestant lifestyle, and treated his employees and rivals with the utmost respect. He largely pursued his business goals in the interest of being successful within what American laws allowed. He viewed himself as a crusader seeking to bring a profitable order to the oil side of the market economy and more, benefiting everyone. He even became one of the biggest philanthropists of all time, giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to charities of all sorts across the world, making sure the whole time to avoid having his name attached to the givings, not wanting anyone to mistakenly believe that he gave to charity just to make himself look good.

But Ron Chernow also makes absolutely clear that Rockefeller seemed to be very good at not considering the social and political consequences of his actions. Every time, Rockefeller seemed honestly surprised when merchants and small business owners repeatedly tried to combine forces, just to have a chance at competition. Every time, Rockefeller felt put upon and unfairly mistreated when brought to court for deliberately seeking to undermine and overwhelm competitors of any kind. It is arguable that he never ever realized before his death how antithetical trusts and monopolies are to the United States and its economic system.
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The Ugly

Tainting the reputation of this man further and removing him from the list of businessmen to aspire to was the fact that, for someone holding himself as a proper, moral, godly and giving man, perhaps Rockefeller's greatest talent was lying to himself about the nastiness and dubious legality of much that he had done to secure his incalculable wealth. Corporate espionage, price wars, efforts to cripple competitors by buying all of their tools before they could, monopolizing transportation so that competitors couldn't transport their goods anywhere, buying land so nobody else could use it but him... Rockefeller's rise with Standard Oil reads almost as a litany of dick moves for businessmen.

On top of that, Rockefeller was king of courtroom evasion, keeping everything a secret, and reading laws "creatively" so as to keep the trust going as long as possible, defying for a long time the will of the United States government and the will of the people from taking effect. Whenever I found myself sympathizing with Rockefeller, all I had to do was remind myself of these things and realize that, for all his personal desires and view of himself, Rockefeller was kind of an asshole.
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They really had a thing for octopus motifs back then

Conclusion

And yet I sympathized with him nonetheless. Maybe it was the perception of the biographer running off on me, but I genuinely got the impression that Rockefeller believed more than anything in the world that everyone was against him simply because they wanted part of the pie. Any criticism he viewed as simply the reaction of greed, and jealousy that Rockefeller had achieved hard-earned success in a world where success of this magnitude is rare. To an extent, this had some validity. But it was an entirely self-centered view that seemed perpetually unable to understand the actual social ramifications of what he did, both with his monopolizing tendencies and unsavory business practices.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Heroes Die


Once in a blue moon, you encounter a book that sweeps away everything you knew before. In the void that is created, you have a titan that stands above the rest in terms of how you view literature, stories, and writing in general. I feel that, for each of us, we have a small handful of books that fit that category, books that we turn to when we're feeling down, or books that we reread when nothing else appeals to us in that moment.

For me, Heroes Die is one of those books. Heroes Die might possibly be that one book that I've read and reread more than any other. When it comes to science fiction/fantasy, Heroes Die and its sequels are where I turn for an example of the genre at the pinnacle of its power.

1984 meets Lord of the Rings meets Heart of Darkness meets...

What immediately comes to mind as an indicator of the book's quality is its absolutely outrageous premise. It isn't outrageous in terms of ridiculousness; it is more so that the premise is so ambitious as to be truly jaw-dropping.

Essentially, Heroes Die is set in two different worlds. The first, or the “main” world, is a futuristic Earth where nations have been replaced by powerful corporations. This earth is dystopic; pollution is rampant, a caste system has been instituted, and social police are in place to enforce compliance. The government is so restrictive that people resort to the most intense escapism that they can find.

This escapism takes the form of plugging into the live actions or recorded memories of actors who are transported to another world. Imagine being able to put yourself directly into the body of your favorite actor as he risks his life heroically or goes on dangerously real adventures. The people of Heroes Die do the same for actors, actors who are sent to Overworld, a world reminiscent of fantasy norms. It is a world that has elves, dwarves, magic, rolling hills, and statuesque mountains. The population of Overworld are unaware that the actors who mysteriously appear are from the corporate wasteland of Earth, allowing the actors to freely interfere or insert themselves into all manner of exotic dramas for the entertainment of the billions back home.

Ferocity Incarnate

Heroes Die follows the life of Caine, the most popular actor of them all. What makes Caine so popular is his willingness to kill anyone who gets in his way and undergo epic adventures that have massive ramifications on Overworld, all for the enjoyment of those at home. He is the personification of humanity's attraction to blood, sex, and violence. And the audience loves it. Caine is the ultimate anti-hero; his brutality and amorality are tempered by his utter determination to accomplish what he thinks is right. And what he believes is right isn't necessarily what the rest of the world believes.

What makes Heroes Die and Caine so poignant, however, is that, when you peel everything else aside, it is one of the most heart-rending love stories you'll ever read. The story begins with his wife, Pallas Ril, having recently left him, leaving his life in ashes. In short order, he finds that she is in danger on Overworld. Despite the fact that he knows he doesn't deserve her and that she may not even appreciate his help, Caine, a man famous for being a stone-cold killer, embarks on one of the noblest acts of his life in order to try and save her. In the process, he faces a god, entire armies, and the self-interested corporate bureaucracy of Earth, who are determined to profit as much as possible from Caine's efforts to rescue his wife.

Conclusion

What follows is one of the most intricate, intelligent, and genuinely gripping stories I've ever read. Matthew Stover's writing style is intense, focusing as closely as possible to Caine's thoughts, bringing the reader into the story so deeply that it seems effortless. The characters are multifaceted and as gloriously dysfunctional as they are complex, living, breathing human beings. The villain is one of the most interesting villains I've ever encountered in science fiction/fantasy. And the premise, complicated as it is, is realized and held together brilliantly. It is up there easily in the top five of my favorite books of all time, surpassed only by its sequel, Blade of Tyshalle.

I would highly recommend this to anyone willing to try a thought-provoking and intense sci-fi/fantasy tale. My only warning is that this is NOT intended for children or young adults. Heroes Die is very adult: graphic violence, mature themes, sexual deviancy... The works. It is one of the darker stories I've read, but I've always been of the belief that the darker a story is, the more poignant and powerful its uplifting moments are. Heroes Die does not fail to disappoint on that level. Check it out and you will encounter one of the most epic stories you've ever seen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Top 5 Movies That Have Influenced My Life - Joe The Revelator

Written by Joe the Revelator:

With Netflix, online streaming, downloadable content, cable channels, rentals, etc. It was hard to pick out five movies which have influenced my life. I feel like I've become desensitized over the years, so much so that new movies, which would have severely altered my perspective, now register as merely a blip on my radar.

Having said that, let's journey back a decade or so, to a time when movies were bigger.



1) Leon the Professional:

Leon, a Luc Besson film, is a glimpse into the life of the world's most mundane professional hitman. The sheer sociapathy of Leon's day-to-day life is astounding. He drinks cold milk by the gallon, does his morning exercises, waters his plant, silently slaughters a gang of trained killers, and when it's time for bed - sleeps sitting up in a chair facing the door with a pistol in reach.

Most of the movie focuses on Leon's relationship with Matilda, the abused neighbor girl whose drug-dealing father was recently murdered by crooked cops. Leon reluctantly saves her from a similar fate, and in turn learns what it is to trust again.



2) Romeo + Juliet:

It's sad to say I wasn't interested in Shakespeare until I saw this movie in high school. Romeo+Juliet is a modern take on the classic love story. The language is kept the same: All thee's, thou's, hither and thither. But the young and energetic cast is able to convey this tale of woe through rock music and pistols. Romeo+Juliet is artistic, fanciful, and outrageous. And if it wasn't for this film I wouldn't be half as literate as I am now, which is ever lacking.



3) Men of Honor:

This is the story of Carl Brashear, the first African American (and amputee) to make Navy Diver. Let me be clear: this is not a war story. Men of Honor is about personal stuggle and accomplishment, about being held down by convention, and earning the respect of the opposition.

This was a big enough film during it's release in 2000 that I shouldn't have to heap too much praise on it. Suffice it to say, this movie had an impact on my life, and the courtroom scene still gives me chills.



4) The Count of Monte Cristo:

Alexandre Dumas' story is still the best revenge plot ever to be inked onto paper. The movie (2002, not the 1934 version) is an engrossing retelling. The naive, happy-go-lucky Edmond Dant├Ęs is fooled by his best friend, framed for treason, has his fiance stolen, and is sent to the Chateau D'lf (island prison) for fourteen years. During his imprisonment he realizes the depth of his betrayal, and is given a strangely rounded education by the mad priest consisting of science, literature, finance, and swordplay.



5) Shogun:

Alright, I cheated on this challenge. Shogun's a mini-series, not a movie. I was trying to shoe-horn Shogun in somehow, in any form, since it's had the greatest influence on my life. It quite literally became an early model for respect- for self and for others.

Based on the book by James Clavell, Shogun takes place in 1600, when the first English ship to arrive in Japan captain crashes on the shores of a small fishing village. What follows is Captain Blackthorne's ascension among the ranks of the Japanese military forces, and the brilliant rise of the daimyo Toranaga to Shogunate.

I must also warn that Shogun has many adult moments, and doesn't shy away from subjects the reader might feel sensitive about. While at heart Shogun is a look at the xenophobic politics of 1600's Japan, it's also about living with one another, and dealing with each others' faults, brutally violent or lewd.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Top 5 Movies That Have Influenced My Life - DionysusPsyche

By DionysusPsyche

1. The Shape of Things and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Yes, I have a tie for first. These movies teach two sides of the same coin, and both are equally important to use as guides when romantically involved.
In The Shape of Things, manipulation, intrigue, and submission dominate a college guy who dates a woman unlike anyone else he knows. This film will make you question every relationship you have, and make you ask yourself whether relationships have value for what you sacrifice. It will teach you that the past is the past and to hold on to pieces of yourself that are truly you.

The first time I saw this movie, I thought about it for two or three days in a row. I remember the day of the week I watched it, where I watched it, and how late it was when the movie ended. Runner up: The Secretary (for different reasons)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind follows Joel, a shy mouse of a man who dates rebellious and exciting Clementine. Yet, she erases him from her mind which prompts him to spontaneously decide to erase her from his. As the process happens, he regrets his hasty decision and tries to save her in any way he can. Contrastly, this film asks us which relationships are worth saving? Would we do things differently the second time around? Should we try things again or should we move on?

 The first time I watched Eternal Sunshine, I had just broken up with my first serious boyfriend. Watching the film made me consider certain things about our relationship that were terribly matched and certain parts that were good. The Shape of Things validates break ups while Eternal Sunshine makes you optimistic for second chances.  Runner up: 500 Days of Summer and High Fidelity

WARNING! Not to be watched back to back.

2. Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
Best friends face their high school reunion and come up with lies to convince their graduating class that they are rich and successful. They try a number of wacky shenanigans that had me in stitches.

This movie helped me realize that worrying about being popular was a giant waste of time, and it was more fun to do your own thing. Not being liked best wasn't the end of the world. The ones out to get you will probably end up with lives that suck more than yours. Having friends you can count on and the motivation to change your life for the better are most important. The right people to impress are the ones who already love you--get over the bullshit of cliques. Something every kid should watch before going to high school. Not as dark as movies like Heathers or Jawbreaker, although if you have teenage girls, they should totally watch those as well (the moral being the school's most famous shouldn't get there by ruining the lives of others, or you know, killing them). Runner up: Mean Girls, and Empire Records

3. I Heart Huckabees
Are we connected to everything or nothing? Much less abstract than What the Bleep Do We Know, and it delves into existentialism, herd mentality, and people embracing capitalism and fame over self-discovery/improvement. The main character is going through an existential crisis, but with the help of three detectives/therapists and friend, he can move through it. Includes such awesome actors as Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman, and Mark Wahlberg. Oh, and Naomi Watts' memorable line.

I first watched this film while I was studying psychology in college, and I think about it every time I watch an Old Navy commercial. I love how the characters are inexplicably tied together even if they absolutely hate each other, and how they're forced to interact despite their mutual loathing. The question whether anything or everything is connected is such an interesting concept, and Hoffman showing the blanket theory is great. The pure ball being is excellent, but for laughter's purposes.


4. Thank You for Smoking
Everyone has skills, has to pay a mortgage, and some of the most charming people are the scum of the earth. What happens when the scum of the earth screws with politics and regulations? Who's more likely to make a deal with the devil?


In life, not every bad guy is all bad and no good guy is all good. No one ends up with a perfect job, and none of us escape being reeled in by snake charmers. It also makes you really glad that Nick Naler's boss isn't yours. Nick Naler can't live a double life, but he also has to do the right thing. You have to stand up for what you believe, and everyone has the right to free speech, unfortunately even the people/corporations you HATE.


5. Reefer Madness the Musical!
Based on the original movie and eerily similar to it, Reefer Madness tackles propaganda and assumptions that sound like fact through its over the top/cheesy musical numbers, incredible cast, and unforgettable dialogue. Does government really know best? Are the best ways to keep children from drugs by using scare tactics and misinformation? Does reading Shakespeare lead to immoral values?


The thing about this movie is that in a lot of ways it really does reveal how direct marketing works and how toxic addiction can be, but it also makes you intensely aware of how ridiculous it all is. The ability to wave off peer pressure in this movie is non-existent which makes it just that much better. My favorite quotation was, "A little orphan girl once told me the sun will come out tomorrow. Her father was a powerful billionaire so I suppressed the urge to laugh in her face."

None of the above movies are overly preachy (with the possible exception of Reefer Madness which is intentional and still worth watching if for no other reason than the brief cartoon sequence). Each of these films not only provided a good sounding board for ideas but also answered questions and caused me to reflect more on areas of my life that required more thought than I was putting into them. I hope that others enjoy them as well!

    Skyrim

    Written by Joe the Revelator




    I've already heard rave reviews for Skyrim; how it's taking over people's lives, forcing them to skip school or call in sick to squeeze in a few more hours of game time. It was the same when Morrowind came out, and later with Oblivion. Gamers' rooms start resembling the 'Sloth' scene from Seven when a big-budget RPG hits the shelves; flies buzzing over putrid chili cans, empty Mountain Dew bottles rolling around underfoot, car fresheners strung up to chase away the scent of unwashed geek.

    Well, here it is, our late 2011 giant. And it's no Morrowind.

    The Elder Scrolls series has gotten progressively more cheery as it's come along. Morrowind was a fantasy land where one could hear Kajeet (cat people) openly talk about their addiction to skooma, and slavers kidnapped weaker races. It was a place where assassins stalked you at night, where you could wake up to face a dagger-wielding psycho, and nothing, not even stealing human souls to power your weapons, was off limits.

    Oblivion was a beautiful, shining, sterilized version of Morrowind. There were seeds of references and books that hinted at grittier, bleaker times. Differences in races were mentioned, but never given the dark realism Morrowind put into it. Murder, theft, and vampirism were still present in the graphically tuned-up powerhouse game, but on the whole it felt like going to a boxing match to find the contenders had been replaced by male underwear models. And no matter how long you tweaked the "Customize Features" bar in the creation screen, you always came away with the weird, plastic same-face character.


    Go away, outlander.

    I'm not saying Oblivion was a bad game. It wasn't. I played through it twice. But the leveling system was written by an evil genius, who believed using favored skills (like swinging swords and wearing armor) should equate to encountering rats at level 1 and Beelzebub at level 20. And the world of Oblivion, while rather large, looked like a fishbowl with mountains on every side, so you'd know at a glance where everything stopped.

    Skyrim is vast, with clouded mountain peaks and deep forests. It's leveling system is simple and effective. And the menus have been streamlined so you don't have to dig through a dozen spreadsheets to find the spells you want to equip. Health now regenerates out of combat, though it's slow enough to avoid feeling like a cover based FPS. It would probably be sufficient to say that Skyrim just plain works. Even the weapons and spells are balanced nicely, with a few added features like duel wielding and advanced perks.


    Race-ism

    In a strange yet interesting twist, the NPC's no longer seem to address issues of race with the same novel abandon as old Elder Scrolls. Instead, the races (Kajeet cat people, Argonian lizard men, Nords, Imperials, Redguards, Elves and Dark Elves) have been given cultural symbols from the real world. Redguards now wear turbans and carry curved scimitars, and talk with heavy accents. Kajeet are treated like sneaky caravan merchants and gypsies. Nords are, of course, Nordic vikings. And imperials are white supremacists.

    That's right. The imperials, the highborn race that's best at politicking, is waging civil war against the freedom-loving viking north in an attempt to annex them into the impereum. The trend for recent RPG's to make white men with flat American accents the overall, behind-the-scenes villain, is still going strong.



    Quit asking questions.

    I'll add that Skyrim is the first RPG I've played in which the NPC's frequently comment on how inanely curious you are. For a game that forces you to go through a dozen dialogue trees for every quest, I find this ironic. I guess asking a warlord what he does for a living is insultingly personal, whereas offering to solve his family's deep-rooted lifetime feud with another clan is not.

    One final note: Marriage is now available, and has practically unlimited selections. The only requisite is to have good standing with the NPC you desire, show her your "magic amulet" and wallah, he/she will move into your house, provided you have one. I married a beggar who looked like she was ninety and had a face like a thumbprint. What can I say? She had me at "Spare a coin?"

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Top 5 Movies That Have Influenced My Life - The Inquisitive Loon


    Recently, I was challenged to come up with a list of my five favorite movies. Not just favorite in terms of, “This movie is really awesome and I like watching it over and over.” A more personal challenge along the lines of, “What movies most inspired you or changed you as a person?”

    This question intrigued me. For one thing, I've tried to avoid making this blog too personal. I prefer the challenge of writing in a way that is both opinionated but objective, trying to avoid the diatribes and rants in favor of an earnest, but fair, point of view. But in terms of me personally: my life, my personality, and who I am... I've let that express itself through my writing alone, but I don't think I've ever really talked about it specifically except with regard to those occasional times where my busy personal life making writing here more sporadic. I'm not the type to talk about my day to day life in blog format; to me, that's what my closest friends are for. Somehow, answering this challenge feels like it'll veer more towards that personal side of things that I tend to avoid in the internet sphere.

    But, hell, why not try new things? So, in no particular order...
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    The Last Samurai

    For me, the movies that I feel affected me, changed my life, or inspired me the most are those that have characters, settings, or ideas that I find incredibly admirable. The Last Samurai followed that mold by showing an attractive view of old Japanese culture. The philosophy of life that the samurai are depicted as having is of immense appeal to me. Living a quiet life in an idyllic valley deep in the mountains, it is hard for me to not feel at peace when viewing this movie and seeing how those in the village go about their everyday lives. Part of that derives from my own experience exploring parts of Japan on my own. The other part comes from simple yearning for the peace that the samurai seem to have found, acted or not.

    Certainly, The Last Samurai is probably rife with historical inaccuracy. Sure, Tom Cruise makes for an eyebrow-raising samurai. But, what made this movie truly connect with me was the romanticized spirit of it. That tight-knit belief in family. The ability to commit yourself utterly to the perfection of whatever you choose to do. Holding to your belief or way of life, even when the entire rest of the world seems to be bearing down on you for it.
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    A Man for All Seasons

    Given my own background of politics and history, I found this movie to be quite appealing. An older movie set in the era of England when Henry VIII was king, A Man for All Seasons mixes intellectual legal discussions with debates on how to hold onto your ethics when faced with all sorts of challenges, political and personal. But, most of all, I found in A Man for All Seasons an intense connection with Thomas More (Henry VIII's advisor), seemingly the only man able to hold to his beliefs in a political jungle where compromise and the bending of morals is the norm.

    As far back as I can remember, I've been deeply attached to stories where common men and women are confronted with incredible adversity, yet manage to hold onto themselves and what they believe in, no matter what. A Man for All Seasons, for me, is one of the most comprehensive and well-told examples of this. All Thomas More has to do is commit to one little lie: state that he supports the King in marrying Anne Boleyn. First, he is threatened with getting fired from his position. Then is faced with arrest. Finally, he comes up against his execution. And, no matter what, even when begged by his family to allow for this one little lie, he holds to what he believes and dies for it. Perhaps that is foolish, but the movie effectively makes it come across as inspirational. And, for that, it goes on my top five.
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    Princess Mononoke

    Princess Mononoke is a movie where I'm somewhat biased towards it because I associate it with a powerful experience and important individual who used to be in my life. Though that experience did not end well at all, it impacted enormously the person I am today, and so this movie gets a nostalgia bonus for that. The wistful, wild, and idealized depiction of Japanese mythology that Princess Mononoke presents adds to that feeling. But explaining that experience is too personal for this blog, so you'll just have to deal with that omission.

    Aside from that, it is interesting to observe that I love Princess Mononoke because it is a blend of the same reasons through which I loved The Last Samurai and A Man for All Seasons. The romanticized setting presented through the Japanese folklore is wondrous and populated with cultures that are as interesting as they are varied. Prince Ashitaka himself is similar in character to the samurai just as he is as devoted to his principles as Thomas More was. I also appreciated the movie for its depiction of the love that grows between Ashitaka and San. You get the sense of an increasing depth of affection while simultaneously noting that it isn't shallow and doesn't end with them getting together (you merely get the hint that there might be something there that they will explore later). In other words, it was realistic yet moving, and that made a lasting impression on me.
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    The Mask of Zorro

    Now before you laugh, you have to understand that, underneath the veneer of professionalism, drama, and objectivity that surges through my writing here, below all of that is a guy who wants to be charming, swashbuckling, roguish, daring, and with no concern at all for the rules or society's expectations of him. I want to sweep ladies off their feet, laugh heartily and, at the end of the day, ride off into the sunset, wave about a sword dappled in sunlight, and vanish into the night. I want to be able to sweep all worries aside, cut loose, and simply have a blast at whatever I'm doing, whether that be partying with friends or overthrowing the Spanish government.

    The Mask of Zorro is the distillation of all that which is awesome. And, come to think of it, it is another of those which is a romanticized depiction of history, and thus probably a font of historical inaccuracy. Remarkable that, for someone who plans on becoming a high school social studies teacher, I'm attracted the most to movies which happen to butcher it. Anyways, I've always wanted to be the roguish hero and, whether that has manifested itself in my life or not (that's for my friends to decide), The Mask of Zorro will always have a special place in my heart for that.
    .

    The Emperor's New Groove

    Now, for those of you who are friends with me “in real life”, this is the point where you loudly exclaim, “Where the hell is V for Vendetta?!” Deal with it. You all know I love that movie, both for its Zorro-like main character and epic plot of self-realization and belief. But I've talked and written enough about that one. So now for something completely different!

    The Emperor's New Groove is easily my favorite Disney movie of all time. It is a perfect blend of an exciting story, positively hilarious humor of all flavors, and a smorgasbord of different characters, all of which are highly entertaining in their own unique ways. But, perhaps most of all, I love The Emperor's New Groove because it is that quintessential buddy movie that perfectly defines the relationship that I have with my closest guy friend.

    It is hard to go into without going at length about it, but this friend and I are, in many ways, complete opposites. He's the comforting family man, the steady, reliable, big cuddly bear of awesome. In other words, he is Pacha. By contrast, I can be pretty self-absorbed, crazy, quirky, spastic, and a joker. Essentially: Kuzco. Having watched that movie with my friend, it was downright hilarious how the budding friendship between those two characters seemed to oddly mirror how our own went down, and it was absolutely appropriate that, by the end of the movie, the two are fast friends for life. As a consequence, The Emperor's New Groove will forever have a soft spot in my heart, an ever-giving memory of the awesome friend that I gained and will always have, through thick and thin.

    ---

    Runners-Up: V for Vendetta, Braveheart, Casino Royale, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

    Now to see if my guest writers will follow suit for the challenge. ;)

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    11-10-11 Blog Update


    No, the blog is not dead.

    Instead, its main contributor, The Inquisitive Loon, has been viciously ambushed by that which we call "Real Life".

    *the audience shudders with awe*

    That's right. "Real Life". A mixture of factors made it so that the Loon has been knocked out of writing commission for some time (and will be for a tad longer). Among the host clamoring at his door are: the Four Horsemen of Fatigue, Unhealthy Snacks, Females, and Obsessive Compulsive Reading; the grim specter of Grad School Applications; the angry behemoth that is Homework; and the impregnable monstrosity that is Work.

    Altogether, these colossi of demanding-the-poor-Loon's-time have zapped him into crazy mode. Gone are his ambitions to participate in NaNoWriMo. The mere thought of plopping down a 50,000 word novel in a month on TOP of all his other obligations is suicide. And the blog has suffered in the process as well.

    But never fear. The Inquisitive Loon will never perish. He will rise up from the morass like a phoenix and write again. "Real Life" will be defeated, one way or another. And then the blog will be vibrant with life once more.