Saturday, October 24, 2015

Goosebumps (2015) Tearing down walls

Goosebumps is a fantastical story with a brilliant mix of humor and horror where every monster from every Goosebumps book comes to life.

The film opens on a new kid in town. It becomes immediately evident that he struggles with the many changes in his life. The move from the great city of New York to a small town in Delaware is hard enough, but it's even worse that his own mother works at his new school or that his new friend is the most awkward boy in school. However, all of these things pale in comparison to the recent death of his father.

In such a situation, it would be expected to the poor boy to wall himself off to the people close to him, but his walls are nothing compared to the walls put up by his neighbor. He is rude, controlling, and very secretive. What can Zach make of it?

The last things he would have suspected is that his reclusive neighbor is none other than famous children's horror author R.L.Stine. In his house, Zach discovers a bookshelf filled with manuscripts. Each one harbors a real monster. Each monster is written into existence though Stine's anger at the world and his desire to hurt it.

It is not until his wish comes true and the monsters are released upon Madison and he is forced to team up with Zach, Champ, and his daughter Hanna that he realizes the true value of real relationships. Once he lets go of his anger at the world is he able to save it from his own creations. He writes his own story in which he traps his monsters once and for all, and he emerges a changed man.

Through their adventure, Stine and Zach help each other tear down their walls and move forward with happy, open lives. They both find love. They both make friends. They both develop a deep respect for each other.

Goosebumps is much like the books it represents with humor, horror, twists, and above all personal growth.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Backstrom (2015) Brilliant Detective or Hopeless Case?

Rainn Wilson makes an incredible performance as Lt. Everette Backstrom, an unhealthy, unhappy detective who leads a specialized crime unit in Portland, OR.
The show only survived thirteen episodes, but it was a very entertaining one season.
Backstrom is a genius. He solves every case put before him mostly with his sheer instincts and a unique empathy for the suspects. However, the has many serious demons ranging from an abusive father to a broken heart.
He breaks the rules.
He is rude and offensive.
He has a multitude of diseases. 
He is a drunk.
He partakes in unhealthy foods.
All in all, he is man on death's door.
However, there is still something that makes us route for him. I think deep down, we envy his shameless directness.
To address the ever present question:
Does his drive to bring justice to murder victims justify his outrageous behavior?
I think the real question is what could his doctor, staff, and loved ones do to save him from himself?
Throughout the season, they do a great job in looking out for him. They challenge him and don't let him bully them. Most importantly, they are loyal to him. Despite how hopelessly he acts, they never leave his side.
Surprisingly, their efforts win out in the finale where he finally admits his faults and seeks the help he needs. The finale's ending scene could not have been more moving. I cannot watch it without crying. Somehow, I am left with the feeling that Backstrom will be all right as long as his colleagues remain by his side.
There is no such thing as a hopeless case. We are all subject to change due to our experiences and the people we keep close. We all evolve over time whether it be for better or for worse.
Backstrom was able to change for the better. Can you?

Dr. Phil (2002 - Present) Fourteen Years Strong

The fourteenth season the The Dr. Phil Show premiered in September, and already it's proving to be a compelling year. Of all the shows to be on air for over a decade, Dr. Phil absolutely deserves to be. And I hope to see fourteen more.
Dr. Phil is my hero. In the four years I have frequented his show, he has taught me more about how to handle the problems in my life than anyone else has in my life's entirety.
Here are a few of his characteristics that I admire:
1. He cannot be intimidated.
2. He has zero tolerance for abusers and bullies.
3. He hates drama.
4. His key interest lies with achieving a peaceful, healthy living for all of his guests.
5. He is not afraid to stand up for himself, his family, and his staff.
6. He is incredibly generous.
7. His language is clean, objective, and clear.
After watching his show for four years and striving to follow his example, I feel as if I have become a better person. Now, I have a goal in life to set these examples for those around me, especially for my nieces and nephew. I can only pray that I have a fraction of the success that Dr. Phil has had.
God bless this amazing man and his campaign to make the world a better place.
Stay tuned on OWN for his daily episodes. Also visit his website for the multitude of services and resources available.

Halloween Wars (2011-2015) An Exciting Halloween Treat

I look forward to this program every year. Its seasons have simple four episode seasons that air every week for the month of October. Food Network's Halloween Wars follows five teams as they compete for a $50,000 grand prize. Each team is comprised of three masters: a pumpkin carver, cake decorator, and sugar artist. Together, they create huge, mind-blowing displays that will either make them or break them.
The third episode, Grave Robber, of its fifth season premieres tonight at 9pm. Bex Taylor-Klaus will guest judge the three remaining teams.
Next week, the exciting finale, Undead Dinner Party, that will determine Season Five's winning team with the infamous Elvira as guest judge.
This season has already had so many exciting moments, including a tumble that nearly caused a team to lose their display. However, they were able to piece it back together in time and pull through to the next round.
This is one of the things I love most about the show. It is a true test of character. Every season I witness contestant snap under the pressure these challenges bring. This affects their ability to work well with others, and their art suffers for it. Meanwhile, the teams that work well together make the best creations and ultimately win the contests.
The next two episodes promise to be as exciting as the last. I look forward to seeing them as much as I look forward to the seasons to come. May there be many. The next episode airs tonight at 9/8c on Food Network. Tune in for an evening of creativity and fun.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) Facing Inner Demons

The remake of this classic horror films surpasses the original, a genuinely terrifying and suspenseful story. It is one of my favorite horror films of all time. The cinematography is absolutely brilliant making it almost impossible to tell the difference between the real world and their dream worlds.
A group of teenagers with a shared secretive history all become haunted by the same dark figure, an evil ghost who seeks to punish them all for causing his own demise. However, he can only attack them in their dreams. As long as they stay awake, they are safe.
However, the body needs sleep. Sooner or later, they all fall asleep. Their attempts to avoid and deny their affliction cannot last for long. Not only that, but they make matters worse by isolating themselves and pushing away their friends. Not coffee, energy drinks, prescription drugs, or even adrenaline can keep them awake.
This monster picks them off one by one until there remain only two. Confronting this monster is inevitable. So, the remaining two, Nancy and Quentin, embark on a journey to find the truth behind this gruesome figure, and what they find is unspeakable. However, the truth also gives them the motivation to destroy this demon once and for all.
It is not until they destroy him that they are able to find peace and get their much needed rest. These unfortunate young people are unable to suppress the truth. Their ignorance and isolation cost many of them their lives.
Nancy and Quentin are only spared because they work together and find the truth. Not only do they face their demon, but they tackle it head on.

The Expectations of Love.

Recently, I found myself in a moment of conflict between my Christian self and my family self. As a Christian I believe in forgiveness. I believe in active communication. I believe in building bridges. I believe in a love without conditions.
So, what can I do when I witness time and again a "fellow believer" who not only refuses to forgive, but even worse, refuses to give the injured party the opportunity to reach out?
Clearly, this is a violation of the fundamentals of God's message.
God forgave us through Jesus Christ. No questions. No conditions.
As a follower of Christ, I feel compelled to show that same grace to those in my own life, which at times has not been easy. Some people have needed a lot of it. However, I do it very willingly, because I belong to a mission greater than myself. I belong to God, and God love.
1 Corinthians 13 says, "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures though every circumstance." (NLT)
To the people with whom I have this problem, I say you must forgive. You must mend the breach. At the very least, I would implore to stop the gossip. If don't have the courage to say it to targets of your words, then you have no business talking about it to others. They don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear it.
Even if you were as wronged as you claim, you still need to talk through it directly. You owe it to God. You owe it to them. You owe it to yourself.
Colossians 3:13 says, "Make allowance for each other's fault, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others." (NLT)
Do the right thing. Mend the breach.


Yesterday, I encountered the third of however many more hack attempts on my website. Fortunately, it was also one of two FAILED attempts. So, the only thing I suffered was the stall of my Goosebumps preview.
At first, I would tell myself these attacks reflect how well I've been doing my job. The things I write are meant to challenge my readers, and I can't help if people feel uncomfortable with my words. In fact, they should feel uncomfortable.
On the other hand, I also wonder if there is something else these attackers want from me. It can't be money, because everything I provide on this website is free of charge.
I may never know what they want from me.
The important thing is that I remain secure. Idetentity theft and internets hacks are a very real threat. It is imperative that we understand this and take drastic measures to protect ourselves.
The second thing I want my attackers to know is that they can never and will never stop me. As long as the Lord inspires me, I will continue to write, whether it be through Christ in Culture or some other media.
God gave me this gift. I was born with this calling. Writing was my focus in college. I even write novels in my spare time. I will never stop writing. So, bring it on. I am not afraid of you. Your attempts to cripple me have failed and will continue to fail. Even if you do succeed in hacking Christ In Culture, you will gain nothing from it.
To my readers, I continue to urge you to stay safe. Always stay safe. Change your passwords regularly. Stay off shady websites. Scan your computers for virises, malware, and spyware.
For more details on internet security, please regard my previous post about security.

Goosebumps (2015) In theaters Friday

The Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine played a big part of my childhood. There were very popular, and I absolutely loved them. Each book is a gem filled with scary, intriguing, and even funny. So, you can imagine my excitement the first time I saw the trailer for the upcoming film.
The brilliant and entertaining Jack Black plays R.L. Stine, author turned professor who spends his time away from the classroom secluded in his home with his young daughter. He is a defensive, secretive man.
What kind of secret does he harbor?
A secret that two boys investigate when they stopped by for a visit. A secret that brings his books to life. A secret that takes them on a fantastical mission to save the town (and the world) from all of his monsters.
Will they succeed? The only way to find out is to see the film, which premieres in theaters on Friday.
Goosebumps promises to be a magical, funny, and action-filled film that I look forward to seeing. Keep updated for the full review.

Ex_Machina (2015) Playing With Fire

Ex_Machina is a mystery that can boggle with the mind. Artificial Intelligence is growing more possible with the progression of technology. However, we must be conscious of just how intelligent our robots become. It is a dangerous road to walk.
This is a lesson Nathan unfortunately learns the hard way. Nathan, an arrogant man who idealizes himself Godlike, invents his own Artificial Intelligence named Eva. It is the first of her kind and the most intelligent and lifelike robot of its time.
But to play God is to play with fire.
Even more dangerous than the robot is the game Nathan decides to play with it. He uses young and lonely Caleb to interact with it in order to subject him to its manipulation.
How far would it go to escape? Or to survive?
What Nathan fails to realize is the answer to those questions:
As far as it takes.
Eva may be intelligent, but it is alien to any human emotion. It has no sense of right and wrong. It possesses no empathy, love, or kindness. All it possesses is the insatiable will to survive.
Unleashed upon the world, and we have a recipe for disaster. It would have all the appearance of a human, all manipulative powers of a woman, and no conscience.
Nathan plays with fire in his attempt to play God and pays the ultimate price. This ending left me feeling outraged. His fate is unnecessary, but it is a fate he brings upon himself.
However, it also gives me a sense of awe. Nathan's failures act as evidence to the absolute complexities of a human structure. It is a feat only God can achieve. We as humans are His greatest work of art. Treasured, loved, and impossible to replicate.
Praise be to Him.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jurassic World (2015) When will they learn?

My first impression of this film was, “When will they learn?!”

For this is the fourth Jurassic film, the fourth time these people attempt to play God, and the fourth complete disaster.

This time, the creators of Jurassic World somehow manages to successfully and safely run the park for several years. With every passing year, the scientists become bolder with their experiments and creations. Bigger. Scarier. More teeth. Their greed is insatiable. The pressure is crushing.

The amount of research and funding going into this theme park should enough to raise eye brows. It begs the question: what is their real goal here?

It is unfortunate that the answers don't come until after disaster strikes putting thousands of innocent lives at risk. The purpose of these experimented animals goes far beyond mere entertainment. There is indeed a much more sinister plan in place. Certain people from within the program blissfully seek to use these animals as weapons, “assets”, and something to control.

However, it becomes quickly evident that the risk is far greater than the rewards. In order for them to become effective weapons, they would need to be controlled. These animals could never be controlled. Otherwise, the animals can and do turn on them in a heart beat, thus becoming an enemy instead of an asset.

The island of Jurassic World turns from a theme park into a terrifying Pandora's Box, and many people pay the price. Only the few characters who treat the animals with fear and respect they deserve manage to secure their own safety. They come to realize how dangerous it is to play with nature.

If only everyone could learn that lesson. The devastating cliffhanger suggests there is more to come...

How many more will it take? At least one more.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Beastly (2011)

Galatians 6:2-3 says, “Share each others burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”

It is an interesting modern take on the Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast. Kyle is a handsome young man with a superficial girlfriend, a rich father and a bad attitude. He spends his days verbally assaulting and embarrassing the downcast and less fortunate. One day, he picks on the wrong girl who casts an unreal spell on him in return. He becomes a scarred, tattooed “freak”.

Peel back the layers, and we find he is only the product of his father's own selfish, superficial beliefs. The same father who exiles him to a secluded location as soon as he loses his physical beauty. The same father who is willing to stop at nothing to restore his appearance even at the risk of his safety. The same father who hires a blind tutor for him and a private maid.

Thus begins the most important lesson of life. His condition forces him to look at people for who they are instead of how they look. The only to break the spell is to achieve the love of a girl who can not only see past his physical appearance, but who is also worthy of his love. The only way to achieve this goal is to first strip away his father's terrible conditioning and teach him to feel empathy and humility.

Empathy comes from experience. 

It is his new found empathy that makes him fall in love with Sloan. As they spend time together, he realizes they have more in common than he thought. Stripped of his father's conceit, it turns out they are a match made in Heaven. His real challenge is making her see that. Can she see past his mutilation into his newly discovered heart?

Actions speak louder than words. He sacrifices his hope of being restored in order to give a chance at her own goal. That is the ultimate act of love. Love is selfless. Love is not hesitating to make sacrifices. Love is to discover how petty our own desires are in comparison to the needs of others. Only by sacrificing his appearance to give Sloan a meaningful future can the spell be broken. 

And it is. In his willingness to set her free, she finally professes her love for him. Not only is his outer beauty restored, but his inner self becomes just as beautiful as his outer self. 

This is a lesson from which we can all learn. Our inner beauty must surpass our outer beauty. We must show others empathy, kindness, and selflessness. We are all brothers and sisters. Sooner or later, we all face hard times.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all had someone in our lives on whom we can rely?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Inside Out (2015) An Emotional Roller Coaster

The new Pixar film, Inside Out, premiered June 19th. It is a fantastic story that explores some very complex theories about human psychology. In a nutshell: Though our emotions drive our decisions, it is our experiences that make our personality.

Such is the case for eleven year old Riley and her emotional struggle during a very stressful, devastating  move. She loses her best friend, a beautiful home, and her favorite hobby. In that process, any memory of her otherwise happy past begin to turn blue.

Such a loss would devastate any child. With such a loss, any parent would understand a child's despair. Instead, Riley's mother pressures her into hiding her sadness and being happy.

Thus begins the struggle between Joy and Sadness, two of Riley's five emotions, but something goes terribly wrong when both of them fall into Riley's subconscious leaving Anger, Fear, and Disgust in charge.

Without Joy, Sadness, and all five of Riley's core memories, Riley loses her personalities. All she can do is express her remaining emotions, and it's not pretty. She gets herself into trouble, even tries to run away, a decision that nearly plunges her into complete darkness.

There only way to save Riley from becoming completely catatonic. No only must Joy accept Sadness as her equal, but she must allow Sadness to drive Riley through her challenging times. Joy must relinquish control.

Without sadness there cannot be joy. Without joy there cannot be sadness. Unlike the other three, sadness and joy need each other, which is why they are both lost together. They are both recovered together. They even share the same eye and hair color, much like sisters.

In the end, all five emotions find a way to work together instead of fighting for control, and Riley is able to progress to a new level of maturity because of it.

Pixar does a fabulous job in the creation of this film. I could literally feel every emotion that Riley feels: joy, fear, anger, disgust, and most of all, sadness. I can't watch the end without crying. It is a colorful roller coaster from start to finish.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Monk (2002 – 2009) The Ultimate Love Story

Monk remains one of my favorite crime series of all time. The story of Adrian Monk, a brilliant detective plagued with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. His personality makes him very difficult to deal with. However, he has an incredible attention to detail that makes him invaluable to the San Francisco Police Department.

Police work is all he knows. All he has. All that keeps him functional. Adrian Monk is a man with a strong sense of purpose. He knows what he can do, he does it well, and he does it with the best intentions. No obstacle is too big in his search for truth. Public opinion doesn't matter to him. People try and fail to intimidate and threaten him. He takes no bribes. Not even his crippling fear of germs can stop him. When it comes to saving lives and bringing justice, he sets aside everything to achieve his goals.

His work ethic is inspiring, especially with his ultimate mystery. Who killed his wife? It takes him twelve long years and a murder attempt, but he solves it nonetheless. In those twelve years, he shows an unyielding devotion to Trudy. Even though she has passed on, Monk only explores three possible relationships, but they do not work. The idea of being with any other woman than Trudy is inconceivable to him. He loves her too much. Her untimely demise nearly destroys him.

He is just as devoted to Trudy before they meet as he is after she passes away. He remains virtuous until their marriage, and he remains faithful to her right up to the finale. Meanwhile, he treats every other woman he encounters with dignity and respect, especially his assistants Sharona and Natalie. He is a perfect gentleman if ever I saw one.

People don't understand Adrian Monk, because he struggles with interaction. He can also be obsessive and difficult to work with. However, it is a small price to pay considering the service he provides. Never in my life have I seen someone with such a strong devotion. To his wife. To his colleagues. To his work. And to every murder victim to whom he brings justice.

Adrian Monk inspires me. He is the embodiment of the phrase, actions speak louder than words. He has taught me to embrace my own anti-social, hyper-observant personality as long as I use it for good.

Though the show has been off the air for the past six years, I remain a fan of the show. I will always love Adrian Monk. It is the kind of show that will never age.