A Tribute to My Best Friend

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.”

– Joseph Campbell

 

I think the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn growing up is that life has way too many goodbyes.

I blogged about this considerably back in my senior year of high school as I transitioned to a new chapter in my life. I was expecting that one. It still hurt when it happened, but I recognized it had to happen. The difference now is, I’m realizing that kind of transition isn’t unique to just the end of high school. Life is a steady flow of new faces and saying goodbye to old ones. And this past December, I said goodbye to one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

To clarify, you can relax; he isn’t dead or anything. But we did have to say goodbye, and I don’t expect we’ll see each other again. So, with this school year coming to a close, I’m concluding that chapter of my life the only way I know how: to write a tributary post.

Let’s get cracking.

I met my best friend in January 2015; my sophomore year of college. We were in the same math class together, and I saw this quiet freshman-looking type who wasn’t really interacting with anyone. So I switched on my social mode and made small talk. We got along well and became friendly towards each other. He was pretty reserved, so my attempts to socialize outside of class weren’t very productive at first. He was perfectly fine chatting during math, but not having Chick-Fil-A at the University Center after class.

Things might’ve stayed put, but I got this feeling in my gut that I can’t quite explain—have you ever met a person and you just get this instinct that you two were meant to be a part of each others’ lives? Well, something told me this guy and I were meant to be a part of each others’. And so, I kept asking to hang out. And eventually, we got Chick-Fil-A at the University Center after class.

Within a month, we were hanging out on the regular; ordering pizza and marathoning Breaking Bad, or bitching about our math homework, or forming inside jokes. And by April, we were spending evenings staying up until 3AM swapping stories. We talked about the best and worst of our past relationships with girls. We told each other about what we wanted for our own futures.

I think my favorite part of all of this is we both entered each others’ lives at the right time. Each of us was going through our own personal shit when we met, and we sort of helped each other get back on track with everything. We got along. We were best friends. Simple as that.

I know there are a fair number of guys who think the concept of ‘best friends’ is a bit gay. They don’t think two dudes should be important parts of each others’ lives. And yet, my best friend and I were. When I was in real trouble and needed a place to stay, he was the person I called. When he was upset, despite the fact that I was angrier with him than ever before, I still dropped that long enough to say, “Alright look, I’m really pissed at you. But you need someone to talk to, so for tonight, I’m going to stop being pissed long enough to be there for you.”

We had an especially bad argument in September that left us not speaking to each other for several days. And then, we went to a baseball game and spent the whole time talking, getting back to joking around, and it ended up being one of the best hangouts we had. We got really good at working things out.

Because that’s what it’s all about: being there for each other in spite of disagreements or arguments. That’s what best friends do. That’s what family does. And make no mistake, even if it was only for a year, he and I were family.

Did we argue? Sure. It was mostly little stuff, but it was still enough to be mildly irritating now and then. And at the end of the day, we were always able to clear the air with one simple conversation and get back to playing basketball or video games or whatever.

We didn’t always agree on how to hang out, either. I’m a movie fanatic and would’ve been happy watching a different movie every time we chilled; my best friend was more into watching WWE or training for American Ninja Warrior (no joke!) So we compromised. We spent summer 2015 watching a lot of movies and watching a lot of WWE. We also went to a Ninja Gym once, which was one of my favorite days. We showed each other our home towns and even made a midnight run to IHOP (it was a long day).

I don’t want to just make a laundry list of activities or bore you with tedious details, because no amount of description will be sufficient to encapsulate how important my best friend and I were to each other. No matter how many ups and downs we had with girls in our lives, we were always able to meet up, grab Subway and swap stories. “So, you’ll never guess what shit I had to deal with today.” And we’d lightly make fun of each other for it. And it was the best thing.

We didn’t know it at the time, but this one hangout we had in December 2015 would end up being our last.

(I don’t want to get into why he and I had to end our friendship—the short version is, his living circumstances changed a month later and he decided it would be too taxing on us both to keep up the friendship).

That last hangout was Thursday December 17th, and we saw Star Wars Episode VII on its opening day. He didn’t especially want to, but he knew how much it meant to me, and I think it was a fitting end to the friendship. We made a day of it and ended up ordering pizza like normal, watching our favorite TV show like normal, and going to the movies like normal.

I only have one regret: at the end of that long day, he and I said goodbye. We thought it was just for winter break, but it ended up being for good. And during the drive home, I realized, “Damn it—I forgot to tell him thank-you for everything. And that I love him like a brother.” I meant to say it. Because 2015 was our year, start to finish, and it was one of the best of my life.

I accept that this whole thing won’t ever quite be settled in my mind, but I also recognize that this is part of life and people have to deal with this all the time. It’s far too often that the world shoves two people in each others’ lives only to pull them back apart, and you’re left wondering why. I don’t have an answer, but the thing I do know is that my life is forever better for having had my best friend in it. And I wish I could have been half as good of a friend to him as he was to me. At the end of the day, none of this is anything I can change. But I can appreciate it, and I can take the best of it with me as I move forward.

For one last time dude: Godspeed, and thank you for being part of my life when I needed it the most. You will be missed.

Movie Review: Mockingjay Part 1 (Spoiler-Free)

“Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us.”

–  President Snow

 

mjayposterI should start this review by saying I have read all of the Hunger Games books. I think this is important because for book-to-screen adaptions like this, book fans such as myself will have a far more critical outlook on said film. I’m looking less at the story being told and more at how the film crew manages to tell it.

That being said, let’s get cracking.

I’ll start this review off bluntly and say that Mockingjay Part 1 did not in any way top Catching Fire. Instead, this movie was more on par with the first film of the series: faithful to the material, and quite in the spirit of the franchise, but woefully lacking in adding any new, smart touches to the story.

Here’s what I mean. If you recall, the first Hunger Games movie was well-done, but it took an hour and eight minutes to get to the actual Hunger Games. Parts of it felt like they dragged on, especially the opening, and overall I thought as well as the story was told, it lacked crisp direction.

Conversely, Catching Fire blew me away. The plot moved at lightning pace and was neatly presented in a smart, concise way. What’s more, the movie took on a personality of its own—while remaining faithful to source material, of course. For example, who can forget Johanna’s famous elevator dressing scene? Or President Snow’s line: “They’re holding hands. I want them dead.” I found myself laughing aloud much more than I’d anticipated. At the same time, there were small touches, such as the shot of the door closing right before the man in District 11 is shot in the head.

The makers of Mockingjay Part 1, for whatever reason, pounded their fists on the table and said, “You know that first film? The one that’s the worst in the series? Let’s make another one like that!”

I hope I’m establishing a clear picture here. Mockingjay isn’t at all a bad movie, it just fails to leave any sort of dent in comparison to Catching Fire. I’m willing to say it’s a slight improvement over the first installment, with about the same number of slight chuckles, and a remarkably similar sluggish pace.

I’m sorry if I sound harsh; I actually do quite love the entire series, but I’m a relativist with these sorts of things. Catching Fire is one of the closest things to a perfect film I’ve ever seen. Mockingjay Part 1 is woefully forgettable by comparison.

Much of the fault, I think, lies with the circus clowns in Hollywood who made the moronic decision to split this movie into two parts. If you were afraid that would affect the pace of the narrative, you were completely right. The story—while executed as best as it can be—is still awkward, contains about ten minutes total of real action, and is painfully full of filler scenes/dialogue. I would have gladly paid double the price of a movie ticket to see one incredible movie, rather than two diluted ones.

All this to say, I enjoyed it. Once it gets out of the shadow of its predecessor, it still brings many of the mostly-good elements of the first film to the table. We see uprisings in the districts…at this point, slightly trite, but still well-done. The film does a good job of setting up its finale, which hopefully will be the best installment yet. I also did enjoy the scene of Katniss singing the “Hanging Tree” song.

(And of course, who’s really surprised that J-Law can sing, on top of everything else?)

In Conclusion: While this movie contains many of the sluggish mistakes of the first film, it still stays faithful to its source material and does an impressive job of laying the groundwork for the real finale. It’s successfully made me excited for Part 2…and Prim should have a blast, also!

Too soon?

Rate: 7 out of 10.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out my reviews of the first Hunger Games Movie as well as Catching Fire!

Book Review: The Giver

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver

 

givercoverI’d hope there are many teenagers out there who grew up with this novel, which won a Newbery Medal in 1994 and is taught in many middle school classrooms today. I’ve re-read it several times in the past few years, and with the movie adaption hitting theaters today, I thought I’d spill my thoughts on the source material.

The Giver is basically a 1990’s Hunger Games for middle schoolers. In a futuristic world of “Sameness,” every person lives in a peaceful, organized community where jobs and spouses are assigned, emotions are repressed with pills, and no one can see color. The only person with memories of the past is an elder called “The Giver,” who gives guidance to the community leaders. The story features a boy named Jonas who is assigned to be trained by the Giver, and be given his memories, to someday take his place.

Cue realizations, revolution, blah blah blah.

I hate how trite this sounds today; since the release of this story in 1993 we’ve seen Divergent, The Hunger Games and the like. The Giver might have many of the same elements, but it still does them quite well. I was especially interested in the concept of Jonas being “given” memories a little at a time and watching those change him. I also enjoyed how the story distinguishes that as the new Giver he has “honor, but not power.” He is given full permission to lie or be rude to anyone, but he has no say in changing the Sameness of the community.

I thought the Giver himself was an interesting character. He’s wise on the surface, but deep down he’s full of bitterness towards the community and regret of his past mistakes. I think Jeff Bridges (who also helped develop the movie) will be perfect to play this role.

All that being said, there are a few things I couldn’t stand about the novel.

For one thing, I thought the pacing was putrid. The book is 180 pages long. The first 100 of these are spent introducing us to the community, to Jonas’s selection, and to his first meeting with the Giver. Within the next eighty pages, the real meat of the story is glossed over in quick successions, and then we’re left with an unresolved ending open to interpretation.

I hate open endings.

I get it; sometimes they’re symbolic, and sometimes they’re cliffhangers to set up the next installment. Problem: there is no next installment here, at least not one that reveals the fates of any of the characters. We’re left feeling as though the author got bored with her own story and stopped 2/3 of the way through.

Maybe it’s because I’m nitpicky, but if I’d told this story, I would have paced it much differently and concluded on a satisfying note, not a confusing one. Also, I realize this was the 90’s and the story takes place in a utopian society, but I do wish the secondary characters had been fleshed out a little more beyond being strictly obedient citizens.

Between these flaws and the now-tired concept, I can see why this book isn’t a bestseller anymore. That being said, it used to be.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m excited for the movie. Jeff Bridges is playing the Giver and Meryl Streep is the community leader, which is exciting. Lois Lowry, the author, has been very involved with the production and has been Tweeting about how delighted she is with the finished product. Am I expecting to enjoy it more than the Hunger Games? Certainly not. But, I do hope for a faithful adaption. I’m all set to see it with a friend next week, so I’ll be sure to review it after the fact.

In the meantime, a conclusion on the book: Though it may no longer be the best of its genre, this story is still a classic and well worth your time.

Rate: 7 out of 10.

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

“I once told you that secrets have a cost. The truth does too.”

–  Aunt May, “Amazing Spider-Man 2”

 

“Impossible,” my veteran readers whisper to themselves as they see the title of this post. “His movie reviews are always ridiculously late. They’re never on time, let alone early. He must be a Time Lord.”

You got me, guys. After nearly two years of wondering who I am or what I look like, it’s finally revealed: I’m Doctor Who.

Real-life photo of me! (Okay, not really).

Real-life photo of me!

Just kidding.

Anyway, due to the lucky combination of an advance screening plus a light homework night, I’m able to write this movie review a few days before the film hits theaters. For that reason, I’ve made sure to keep it spoiler-free.

For anyone unfamiliar with the franchise: After the debacle that was Spider-Man 3 in 2007, Hollywood decided to let the series simmer down for a few years, then rebooted it in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man. Most of the comic book fans were pleased enough that a sequel was thrown in the works, and now, here we are.

In the first film, we saw Peter embrace his alter-ego and fight Dr. Curt Connors, AKA the Lizard. Now, we get to see him up against two new villains: Electro and the Green Goblin.

When I heard that, I yawned at the first one but got excited over the second. The Goblin has always been my personal favorite of Spidey’s foes.

Which is why I was slightly disappointed by this movie. While it improves on several things from the first, villain selection isn’t really one of them. The character development of Electro literally begins and ends with his name. 

Still, my eyes were on the prize: Green Goblin. Finally, right? I couldn’t wait for them to introduce Harry, develop a complex friendship between him and Peter, and put that to the test when the alter-egos kick in.

And now, having seen the movie, I’m picturing the screenwriters sitting back in their meeting room chuckling to themselves. “Oh, you wanted the Goblin to be a big part of the story? Mm, looks like you’ll have to wait a few more movies for that to happen. Oh and, screw you.”

I suppose that’s my biggest irk towards the film: out of the two villains, it picks the awesome one and gives him minimal screen time/development backstory, and the main antagonist isn’t even cool.

But let’s move on. Other points of the movie: well, like I said, if you enjoyed the first one, everything in that is pretty much done here too, except slightly better. We do learn a little more about Peter’s parents, which is satisfying. Gwen has more screen time, and I appreciate how her story role plays out.

Honestly, there’s not too much wrong with this movie, except that most of its action scenes are unrealistic to the point of being redonkulous.

I think the only reason I didn’t enjoy the film too much is because it’s just like the first: an unnecessary reboot to a franchise that should’ve been left alone for a few more years, in my opinion. If you’re one of those people who agrees with me, you might find this movie a bit useless. If you loved the first one, you’ll love the second even more. Either way, Amazing Spider-Man 2 probably won’t change anyone’s minds.

One last major issue I have with the movie is the ending. I could forgive the hackneyed plot for the bulk of the runtime (which at 140 mins is a bit too long), but the final scene turned out to be the straw that broke the cinematic camel’s back in my case. The filmmakers had such a good thing going with an ending montage, and I was just starting to get emotional. Then one last villain entered the stage in a pointless setup for the sequel, and he let out a laugh so spectacular that it nearly drowned out my own.

Overall, this movie for me was just kinda, eh. If you liked the first one, then go crazy; you’ll be happy. If you think this reboot is slightly unnecessary, as I do, then this certainly won’t sway your opinion.

Hey, at least Peter finally stops using Bing in this one.

Rate: 5 out of 10.

Movie Review: Non-Stop

Fighter Pilot: “Agent Marks, our fighter squad has you in our sights. Do you hear me?”

Bill Marks: “We’re running out of time! Do YOU hear ME?”

 

 

Well! This is a bit late, isn’t it?

My veteran readers are well aware that by some law of physics or another, it’s impossible for me to post movie reviews on time, when they would actually be helpful to people. As it was, I’d post a movie review a few weeks late and apologize for the delay. Then I’d promise the next one would be on time.

And my readers and I were all like:

So, anyway, my implied policy now is, movie reviews must be late. Also, I’m crazy busy. Which is why I’m posting this now, even though I saw the film on its release date eleven days ago. As usual, I’ll keep this free of spoilers.

The setup:

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Non-Stop, just think Taken on an airplane. Liam Neeson portrays Bill Marks, a nearly retired air Marshall who’s detached from his family and a former alcoholic. During a flight to London, he receives a text message saying that if he doesn’t wire $150 million dollars into an account, someone on the plane will die every twenty minutes. But this threat turns out to be the start of a much bigger plan.

It’s a simple but enticing premise. No, the movie won’t rock your socks off or anything, but it more than lives up to its hype. From the moment the plane leaves the runway, the action kicks off and doesn’t stop until…well, I won’t spoil how it ends. But it’s a pretty crazy flight.

What I liked:

As you might expect, the film’s number one asset in my opinion was Liam Neeson. Let’s momentarily set aside the fact that I have a huge man crush on him and will see pretty much anything he’s in, as long as he’s shouting at and/or killing someone.

(But seriously. This man could recite phone book to me and I would be thoroughly entertained.

And if you didn’t think there was a video out there of Liam Neeson reading Justin Bieber lyrics, you haven’t looked through the internet as hard as I have.)

Ahem. Anyway.

Apart from that, he still does well in this role. If another actor were the lead, I’d probably give this movie an average rating. My bro Liam makes it highly enjoyable.

Other assets: since you’re wondering, no, it isn’t a stupid plot. As far as I can tell from my experience, mystery thrillers tend to either play out how you’d expect, or they pleasantly surprise you and keep things interesting. Non-Stop does the second. You won’t be mind-blown or anything by the big reveal, but you probably won’t figure it out, either.

The action is excellent. Just picture everything cool you can do with an unknown enemy, mystery plot and Liam Neeson all mashed together on an airplane, and it’s done in this movie. Liam Neeson makes several takedowns which drew applause from my fellow moviegoers in the theater.

Have I mentioned Liam Neeson yet?

What I didn’t like:

Okay, so when you REALLY look at the plot, you can find a few holes. No gaping ones, but this movie doesn’t exactly hold up under microscopic inspection. I personally don’t care that much. It’s an entertainment film! It’s not supposed to have any grand message or flawless storyline. Its only job is to keep you on the edge of your seat, and I think it accomplishes that.

In conclusion: This movie lives up to its promise, and while it’s not the most mind-wrenching film of the year, it’s one of the most thrilling ones I’ve seen in a while. Plus, you know. Liam Neeson.

Rate: 7 out of 10 Liam Neesons.

liamneesonrating

Movie Review: Catching Fire

President Snow: “You fought very hard in the Games, Miss Everdeen. But they were games. Would you like to be in a real war? Imagine thousands of your people, dead. Your loved ones, gone.”

Katniss Everdeen: “What do I need to do?”

 

hgmcfFirst of all, don’t worry, I won’t put any spoilers on here!

You might remember me reviewing the Hunger Games movie with a somewhat critical eye. I said how I thought the first film was nicely done, but just didn’t feel as exciting or cool as the book. For anyone who shared that concern—or any concern at all, really—fear not. The second Hunger Games movie sweeps in and blasts away any flaws in its predecessor.

Show of hands: who read the Harry Potter books, loved them, then saw the movies and loved them just as much? If you’re like me, you followed that pattern, and you noticed something: what makes the HP movies so great is that they don’t just adapt their source material line for line. They include most of it, but then give it a new feel, sort of.

For example, the sixth Harry Potter, my favorite one. In the book chapter one, we have a meeting between the ministers talking about the growing threat of Voldemort. In the movie, we have an awesome action sequence of a bridge being destroyed as Death Eaters sweep through London.

If you loved touches like that, buckle up. Catching Fire achieves the near-impossible goal of turning the source material into its own thing, while at the same time being a faithful adaption. Oh, if you see this movie and have any problems with how it was adapted, please blast me in the comments. Please. Even my most critical friends couldn’t find anything wrong with how this book was translated into a movie. Was a scene from the book cut here and there? Absolutely. Were new scenes added? Sure. But the feel is identical. No, it’s even better, because the movie is so energetic and fast-paced that you’re going at light speed for the whole ride.

You know how when you watch a really good scene in a movie and you’re just sitting there gripping the armrests, holding your breath to see what will happen? This whole movie is like that. It doesn’t let up.

What I’m trying to say is that this movie found what the first one was looking for. I personally was quite bored the first fifteen or so minutes of The Hunger Games. And even the rest was sorta…eh. Good adaption, but in the end, it felt too familiar. We’d seen it all before.

Forget that here. Oh, forget that here. I won’t spoil anything, but for anyone who knows the story: do you know how President Snow makes a big announcement about halfway through the book? Like, really big?

You’d think that would just show Katniss crying afterwards or something. But no, this movie goes all-out. We see Peeta falling to the floor, Haymitch throwing something at his TV, and Katniss breaking down her own door to run out into the woods and sob. All while an epic score plays and it shows a montage of Panem.

Think I spoiled it? That was just a taste, my friends; a single example of the tone this movie takes on. Every scene is better done than in the book. There’s quite a bit more humor, too (I laughed out loud at Johanna’s interview).

And of course, Jennifer Lawrence. She really is at the top of her game in this movie. Don’t get me wrong, she was great in the first one. But now she seems older, more mature, more like a hardened adult warrior who’s still vulnerable. They couldn’t have picked a better actress for the role.

I could spend pages breaking down all the awesome scenes and touches in the film, but I think I’m better off just telling you to go see it.

So, go see it. Now!

In Conclusion: This movie is spectacularly done and takes on its own tone while still being faithful to the book. If you loved the first movie or even if you didn’t, see this one now. It’s a whole new experience.

Rate: 9.5 out of 10.

And You Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse (Movie Review: The Sea of Monsters)

“I was brought in after they already had a draft of the script which, quite frankly, didn’t work. With the draft that was originally done, the only thing wrong with it was that it was TOO faithful to the book. So first and foremost, I had to think of a wholly different way of adapting the novel. ”

–  Screenwriter Marc Guggenheim

 

somposterDo you love terrible film adaptions? Then we have the perfect movie for you! The second installment in the Percy Jackson film series will not only lower your opinion of Hollywood’s ability to adapt novels, it’ll squash all hope you had left for the PJ film franchise as a whole!

But wait, there’s more!

This movie goes beyond traditional butchering of source material. What makes it really shine as an abysmal adaption is that it moves on to the other novels in the Percy Jackson book series, picking pieces from the rest of them so as to butcher their content as well.

Doesn’t it sound great?

I don’t mean to sound scathing here, but honestly, this movie sort of deserves it. However, in the interest of fairness, I’ll attempt an objective review of it as a whole.

So, we have the adaption of the second book in the Percy Jackson series, meant to be a sequel to the 2010 adaption, The Lighting Thief. In this, Camp Half-Blood is attacked, and Percy and his friends must set out to find the Golden Fleece, the only thing that can save their camp from…uh, more attack.

Also, Luke is trying to resurrect Kronos, who was never mentioned up until this point in the entire film series. Nor is it ever explained who Kronos actually is. But hey, no biggie.

I’ll start off by listing what I liked. There were exactly two parts of the movie I thoroughly enjoyed.

The first was the opening scene, which features Luke, Annabeth, Grover and Thalia running for Camp Half-Blood when they were kids. Unfortunately, this scene only lasts around a minute, but it was arguably the best minute of the film.

The second was when the trio meets Luke for the first time in the movie. I think Jake Abel, who portrays our favorite villain, really brings him to life and does the best he can with the lines he’s given. His speech to Annabeth, ending with “you disappoint me the most,” was solid.

However, the negatives aren’t to be ignored here.

Let’s see…here are a few good ones: Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood without any attacks; he doesn’t meet Tyson until he gets there and Chiron introduces them; Grover isn’t kidnapped by Polyphemus; Clarisse is included but not in any key part of the plot (she also looks around twenty-three); we still never see Ares; they never go to Circe’s island; and one of the worst, Annabeth and Percy don’t have any of the meaningful one-on-one conversations they have in the book.

Actually, they really don’t have any one-on-one conversations at all, actually. Wait, do they still like each other?

It takes about forty minutes for our friends to set out for the Sea of Monsters. They literally sail for probably twenty-five minutes, and they’re at the Cyclops’s lair. They escape with Grover and the Fleece…

Which Luke immediately takes and uses to resurrect Kronos.

No, I’m being serious. The coffin opens, and Kronos is reformed. Not in the way he is in, you know, the books, but rather as a giant monster-type thing who dies around two minutes later.

Kronos1111

Man, Hollywood, really scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t we?

Overall, this movie amused me, because I was sure going in that nothing could be worse than the adaption of The Lightning Thief, which I blogged about earlier. But sure enough, when the movie was over, I could say with total sincerity that they actually did a worse job with this one. For starters, none of the Olympians apart from Dionysus (who virtually has no role) appear. No Zeus, Hades or even Poseidon. I suppose that’s why the removed the word “Olympians” from the franchise title.

Come to think of it, did they keep anything from the first movie, other than the cast members?

chrn

Oh. Never mind.

Hey, at least Annabeth was blond, right?

In conclusion: pretty much everything in this movie is discount except for the CGI. The acting is unimpressive, the dialogue is discountable, and the plot is virtually nonexistent. Good job, team! Can’t wait for part three!

Rate: 2 out of 10.