Movies, music, cartoons, comics, food, and television. That's just the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night.

 

"Under God" Under Review

         The words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are coming under fire again in Massachusetts as a the American Humanist Association (AHA) argues that the pledge is actually unconstitutional since it infringes on the First Amendment right of an Atheist child’s beliefs.

            Roy Speckhardt, The executive director of AHA, claims that the method of just opting out of the Pledge of Allegiance won’t work since, “The opt-out itself is exclusionary and unpleasant… Children are left with a bad choice: either stand up and recite something against your beliefs, or opt out and be ostracized.”

            I can agree with Peckhardt on this claim since early in my youth a young girl in my class would only stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, but would neither recite it or put her hand over her heart. When school started she was ostracized by a few, but eventually it was just accepted by everyone. Still, I’m sure she didn’t enjoy being gawked at by her fellow pupils.

            The strange part of this story is that she did believe in God, but felt that the government and the flag were not to be idolized. It makes me wonder what an association like the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty would do if she went to them and asked if she could get them to end the use of the Pledge of Allegiance all together.

            The words “Under God” weren’t the first time that the Pledge of Allegiance was changed by politicians. Since its creation in 1892, the pledge has changed several times. There have been changes such as changing “My Flag” to “The Flag of the United States of America” in 1924 in order to make sure that new immigrants would know that their loyalties lie with the United States and not their birth country.

            It wasn’t until 1954 that the words “Under God” were introduced to the Pledge of Allegiance, 62 years after the pledge was first created and 12 years after it was officially adopted by congress (1942) due to pressure from church figures, specifically George MacPherson Docherty.

            Docherty gave a sermon that was attended by several United States Presidents on Lincoln’s birthday, claiming that, “…there was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life.” * which meant that “Under God” would be the right couple of words to make it stick out.

            When the bill was signed into law by President Eisenhower on June 14, 1954 (Flag Day) he stated, “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty…. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.” ** This directly violates the First Amendment, as it forces those who do not believe in God to openly say that it is God that keeps America great.

            “Under God” is not needed for the Pledge of Allegiance. It adds nothing to the pledge and was added when religious zealots wanted the country to become closer to God. It is just a relic of a time when America was going through a religious phase and believed it was the right thing to do to. America should be mature enough by now to see our mistakes and change the pledge.

            Another thing I don’t understand is why is it that no one has tried to stop the Pledge of Allegiance all together? The pledge is recited most frequently at schools, why should this be allowed? To pledge your allegiance is to say you will follow something no matter what. At a young age children are being told to align themselves with the United States. Does this not mean that the Pledge of Allegiance itself, even without the words “Under God”, is trampling over our First Amendment rights?

            Children may not completely understand what the pledge means (I didn’t completely comprehend what it meant until I was in High School), but that doesn’t mean that the country isn’t trying to indoctrinate people at a young age. A nostalgia factor for the Pledge of Allegiance may be the reason why it has stayed all of these years, but there is no real need of the Pledge of Allegiance since the act of reciting it actually infringes on everyone’s First Amendment right.

09-09-99: A 40 oz. for My Fallen Homie, the Sega Dreamcast

An #article that I wrote four years ago, but on another anniversary of the US launch of the #Dreamcast, I decided to share it again.

The Dreamcast means a lot to me and if you’re a gamer who grew up with one, you should bring it out today and give the old Dreamcast another play. Enjoy!

(Source: addtoany.com)

My Music. My Life.

I was given an assignment for school on 5 songs that mean a lot to me. It had to be short, so I cut some stuff out. I’m sort of glad I did, it makes the list a quick read. At the same time I know I could have written pages on the music I love. Anyway, these are some of the most important songs that shaped who I am. Enjoy.

Michael Jackson/Weird Al Yankovic-Beat It/Eat It:  These two artists were the first musicians that I listened to independently when I was growing up. I chose Beat It and Eat It because I like both the songs for different reasons. Michael Jackson gives a grim look at someone who will put their life in jeopardy just to be accepted. Weird Al’s version is about food. Both versions are about life when you think about it.

Queen-Bohemian Rhapsody: When I started using Napster as a kid I would remember songs that I overheard previously from all sorts of media and download those songs. After watching Wayne’s World I knew I had to download Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s a good thing I did, it’s one of the most beautiful and powerful songs I have ever heard. That song is art, that’s what it is. Queen is one of the bands that got me through High School.

Gorillaz-Slow Country: Slow Country reminds me of the first girl that I ever loved. When I hear it I can’t help but think of her and how great it felt to feel loved by someone. I also remember what it was like to have your heart broken at a young age, and how good it is raise yourself from the ashes and not let depression get the best of you. She loved Gorillaz, too. 

Black Sabbath-War Pigs: While I’ve always liked Black Sabbath, War Pigs is what made me appreciate Black Sabbath even more. I’ve heard anti-war songs before, but nothing like this. Black Sabbath was telling the truth about war. Its wickedness, the politicians who use the lives of people for their own gain, how it leads to only more suffering. Black Sabbath knew exactly where war would take us, and so did I.

Black Flag-Now She’s Black: When I was going through a really bad break-up this song (along with Bastard in Love, also by Black Flag.) helped me get through the pain. The love of my life was out of my life, but everywhere I went, everywhere I looked, she was there.  It was like Henry Rollins was speaking about exactly what I was going through. Love will drive a man insane.

Atari Finally Goes Off Life Support

As any gamer would know, Atari recently filed for bankruptcy. A move that shocked the videogame industry and brought out an abundance or articles in remembrance of Atari and what they’ve done for the industry. 

These articles on the importance of Atari and their accomplishments are well deserved. Atari used to be the biggest name in videogames, they laid the foundation for what videogame companies are today. Let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for them the entire videogame industry may not even be a thing. While videogames were popular when Atari first got in the game, it was their presence (and the Atari 2600) to bring the love of videogames to the masses.

Now, I’m not part of the videogame population that saw Atari at its zenith. By the time I was born (1987) Nintendo had already revitalized the videogame industry and Atari was trying to stay head above water in a changing landscape. So, I can’t say that Atari means as much to me as someone who is older may feel, but it’s never good to see such a big name go down.

The problem I see with it though is that while people are saddened by the loss of Atari, can anyone name a non-licensed game that they created in the last five years? In fact, Atari just seems to be a name that’s used to sell merchandise to an older group based on the appeal of nostalgia. (Something that will most certainly happen to me when Sega starts selling Genesis memorabilia in bulk.)

After Nintendo got into the hardware game Atari didn’t seem to know what to do with itself. Maybe people were still blaming the company for the videogame crash of 1983 or maybe they just seemed too behind the times in terms of the way they were being managed, but all my life it seemed like Atari was playing a constant game of catch up.

By the time I was in Elementary school Atari was still trying its hardest to stay relevant in the industry.  I remember seeing advertisements in magazines, comic books, and on television for the Atari Jaguar, but whenever I brought it up to any friends in the school yard there seemed to be a universal feeling of indifference toward the console. I’ve never even met anyone in my entire life who owned an Atari Jaguar. I think that says a lot about where Atari was at that time.

While Atari was eventually saved by the likes of Hasbro and Infogrames, it seems like it was only being used for its name. There was nothing incredibly fascinating about Atari’s output in its final years, a lot of licensed games and re-releases or visual updates to their classic games. Nothing was being done to make Atari stand out or seem special, it was just being used for its name and history.

This is real the problem lies, the videogame industry is like a shark, it has to continually move forward or it will die. Atari wasn’t moving forward, it was being used to create and publish games that would get a quick buck.

While Atari finally going bankrupt may feel unpleasent in the hearts of videogame fanatics, the Atari they know has been dead for over a decade now. However sad it may feel to see Atari go bankrupt, it’s almost impossible to not think that some company is going to buy the name. It won’t be the same Atari that people know and love, but then again, Atari hasn’t been the same company that people know and love since the 80s.


My Review of Black Metal (2013)

In the wake of a tragedy the public starts to look for answers on why everything goes wrong. A common scapegoat for a tragedy is music. Musical artists like Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, and Marilyn Manson have all felt pressure from the public because of misinterpretation of their music. (In Marilyn Manson’s case it was just a witch hunt, since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of the Columbine High School Massacre didn’t even like his music.) While the artists are not directly involved, they still feel the guilt over the calamity.

In the movie Black Metal, Ian (Jonny Mars), the lead singer of the band Crown of Horns, begins to go through a period of bleakness after one of his fans kills his teacher in cold blood. While Ian may have the ghastly black metal persona on stage, off stage he’s actually a calm parent who seems to live a typical life. 

The tragedy begins to take a toll on Ian after a fight in a convenience store where he is confronted by a passer-by who blames him for the incident and even goes so far as to say that it was probably Ian’s child who committed the acts of murder. (This doesn’t bode well for the passer-by)

While it may be difficult to tell a story in under nine minutes, writer and director Kat Candler does a pretty good job of showing you the traumatic event and the chain reaction that comes from it. The film also doesn’t feel like it’s trying to capitalize off of the black metal controversies from Norway. Rather, this film depicts an artist influenced by the music who finds himself in his own dilemma caused by murder.

Jonny Mars is really good in Black Metal, due to time constraints it’s not easy for someone to give a a completely developed performance in a short film, but Mars was able to do it. While the title would have you think that you would see more of his black metal persona, you only really see it in the very beginning of the film. The majority of the film sees Ian as just an average guy.

The cinematography in the film definitely stands out. From the shots of the grisly murder scene, to Ian talking to his daughter in the middle of the night, everything is shot superbly well.

While the film has a somewhat abrupt ending, it’s very well done and worth a watch. I don’t watch a lot of short films (Unless you count cartoons as short films), but Black Metal was something that I couldn’t help but watch because of the subject matter. Even though it isn’t my favorite metal genre, it does have an interesting history behind it. However as I said before, this movie isn’t about that history, it is merely a backdrop for the story. You don’t need to be a metal fan to enjoy this movie, wouldn’t hurt, though.

Black Metal is an official selection for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and can be seen for free on YouTube. 

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My Review of Looper (2012)

Yeah, this review is pretty late, but I just got around to watching Looper the other day. 2012 had me skip out on a lot of movies, so I’m trying my best to catch up.

In the future when the mob wants to kill someone they send them back into the past, where one of their hired guns, a looper, waits to assassinate the target. However, every looper must live with the realization that one day the mob will come after them and eventually meet the same fate that every one of their target’s met, this is called closing the loop. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) eventually encounters himself (Bruce Willis) one fateful afternoon and is knocked unconscious. Now he’s on a mission to take his future self out before the mob decides to kill them both.

Looper is written and directed by Rian Johnson who has directed some great Breaking Bad episodes and one of my favorite High School movies of all time, Brick. (Which also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt) Beyond that, I haven’t seen anything else that Johnson has directed. He doesn’t have a large amount of things under his belt, so I still have time to catch up on his work. For the most part though, he’s been a part of some excellent projects and I hope to see more from him soon.

The two principal actors who play Joe in the film do a really good job on both their parts. While Levitt plays Joe with an arrogant bit of swagger, Willis plays him with a more mature attitude about life. Even as Willis pleads with Levitt to help him, Levitt wants nothing to do with his future self’s plan. It’s surprising how similar Willis and Levitt actually look. I’ve never noticed it before, but as you watch the film you do start to notice that there is a certain something about the both of them that makes them look like future and past versions each other.

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While Willis does play an important part in the film, he doesn’t show up in it nearly as much as Levitt does. In fact this is mostly a Levitt film, with Willis showing up every once in a while to be a bad ass or to be gloomy about the turn of events. Still, this doesn’t take away from his performance in the film. Just don’t come into Looper thinking that Bruce Willis will get as much times as Levitt.

Levitt is strong throughout the whole movie and never once lets you down. His character grows during the movie and not once does it seem forced. The entire performance seems real natural, which is good because the brash nature of his character could have come off really bad if it was in the hands of a weaker actor.

Special appreciation should be given to the story of Looper, time travel movies usually deal with one of two problems: Either the film goes too in depth with the way time travel works, making the movie incredibly convoluted and confusing to follow or they don’t put enough work into it, leaving room for major plot holes. How does Looper counteract such problems? In a meeting with himself, young Joe brings up the possible outcomes that may come of them meeting together and what dire complications it could have for the future. Future Joe shuts him up and tells him that if they were to go into everything about time travel it would just be too complicated. By doing this it saves the movie valuable time and doesn’t become a burden on the film.

The music in the film is okay, it has moments where it stands out, but the music by Nathan Johnson never reaches the same heights of beauty as it did with Brick. Which is too bad because the soundtrack in Brick is one of my favorites. Still, it’s not like it’s bad, just a tad bit flawed. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, Nathan Johnson and Rian Johnson are related. They’re cousins. Pretty talented family, right?)

Looper is a great movie that is more closely related to crime thrillers than science fiction, the action is ever present and never gets boring. I can see why it made so many ‘Best of 2012’ lists. It’s just a shame I wasn’t able to see it in theaters when I had the chance. 

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Unpopular Opinion: Top 5 Games of 2012 (Sorta)

galaxynextdoor:

I’m poor. That sucks. It especially sucks when you have so many different hobbies like I do. So as 2012 went on and I started to miss out on great comic books, films, videogames and concerts, it really broke my heart. So what do I do when I’m asked to make a top 5 list of the best games of 2012 when I’ve only played two games and beaten one? Well, first I cry, but after I’m done crying I decide to write a list of games I wish I played this year. Can’t hurt, right?

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Hey! Look at what I wrote! Hope you enjoy it.

My Review of This is 40 (2012)

It’s been a while since Judd Apatow’s last movie. While his last film, Funny People, wasn’t his best film, Apatow has been a part of a lot of quality projects in the past. So I was willing to give This is 40 a chance. 

This is 40 follows the continuing story of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) from Knocked Up. As the title explains Pete and Debbie are finally crossing over to 40 and neither seem to be too happy about it. (Pete seems to be taking it much better than Debbie does, though.) Age isn’t the only problem that they’re facing, as financial problems begin to pile up for both Pete and Debbie’s businesses and parenthood seems to be a hindrance for both of them. 

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann perform well with each other and perfectly capture a bickering couple in the middle of a long argument. Of course this is the same nagging couple that worked really well in Knocked Up, so you shouldn’t be surprised by how good their chemistry is together on screen.

There are a lot of bit players in the movie, but the one that sticks out the most is Albert Brooks as Pete’s dad, Larry. Larry is caught in a situation where he is now dependent on Pete for money and Pete can no longer take care of his father like he used to. Brooks’ character neither takes the role of a protagonist or an antagonist, instead you kind of pity his character while at the same time despising him. He’s a like a smart ass with a heart of gold. 

Most of the acting in the film is good, and for the most part there is nothing in the movie that would tarnish it, but I did see some problems with Iris Apatow, Judd Apatow’s daughter. There are moments in the film where she does a really good job, but for the most part her character is kind of annoying. I hope I don’t come off as mean, but I just don’t feel that her acting is strong enough in some scenes and as a result it sometimes hurts the film.

It should be noted that while I wasn’t too pleased with Iris Apatow’s performance, I did enjoy her older sister’s (Maude Apatow) performance. Maybe it’s because she’s older or maybe she just has a better understanding of acting as a craft. Either way, she does a good job. 

Going into this film you may be wondering what Apatow will be going for with This is 40. Will he be more dramatic like in Funny People? Or will he try to be more comedic like in The 40-Year-Old Virgin? Well, This is 40 feels closer to Knocked Up, but with a more serious vibe. Jokes are still funny and certain situations are more light hearted than others, but in the end it doesn’t feel as hilarious as The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up, which is okay.

It seems like a lot of people are afraid of change, and the idea that Apatow may be growing up is a little off-putting to people, but I’ve come to a point in my life where I wouldn’t want to see him do the same silly movie over and over again. The story is still great and the characters are still interesting, it’s just that comedically it’s not as strong as his earlier films.

If you’re going into This is 40 hoping that you’ll be laughing so hard that you’ll run out of air and pass out then you will be sorely disappointed. However, the movie is pretty interesting on its own and does tend to give a good chuckle every now and then. I suppose the average Judd Apatow fan is now at a crossroads and needs to find out if they want to continue to follow Apatow as he grows as an artist or if they would rather stick with his sillier work.

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My Review of Django Unchained (2012)

Quentin Tarintino is a huge fan of 70s exploitation films. You can see it in a lot of his work and in most of his interviews. Django Unchained brings together the classic westerns from the mid to late 60s with the classic Blaxploitation and ultra-violent films of the 70s. It’s like Tarintino is paying homage to the films that meant a lot to him during his impressionable years.

Django Unchained is the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who is saved by Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in order to collect a bounty on the head of a few thieves. On their journey Schultz begins to mentor Django and promises to reunite him with his wife. However, this leads them to the eccentric and ruthless plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is in possession of Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).

Since Django Unchained is somewhat of a Western, the cinematography has to be top-notch. It’s one of the things that define Westerns. Vast open areas and beautiful scenes on the prairie are what make Westerns so great, and Django Unchained delivers on the beautiful cinematography. In fact there is a scene at what seems like the Rocky Mountains that is just jaw dropping. While it may not be the standard Western by traditional standards, it does offer cinematography just as good as the classic Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns of yesteryear. 

The violence in Django is great, it not only captures your eye because of the bullet holes going through everyone, but Tarintino doesn’t shy away from the brutality that slaves were going through at the time. Tarintino could have gone two ways with his depiction of southern plantations at the time, he could have: A) Worked around it and showed as little as he could as not offend anyone or B) Showed what slaves were actually going through at this time and not cop out last minute. Thankfully he went with the latter. 

The violence towards slaves in the film isn’t just there as a way to shock you either. Flashback scenes where Django is begging for his wife not to be whipped are filmed perfectly and help make the movie feel like more than just a violent Western. Although I’m sure this film pays its respect to exploitation films of the past, it feels like the material in the film is something more than just your regular exploitation violence. There is substance in the violence shown in the film.

Now there is some great acting in this film, but two actors really stick out. The first actor to stick out is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie. Boy, is he good at playing evil. More than menacing, DiCaprio plays Calvin as sort of a southern playboy who buys slaves just so that he can make them fight to the death for his own amusement. Something has to be said about a character who revels in just how malicious he is. Calvin Candie may become one of my favorite villains of this generation, he can go from calm and cool to off the wall in a manner of moments, and he always regains his complexion. 

Samuel L. Jackson is the second actor to stick out to me. His character, Stephen, is the main…uh, House Negro in the film and is very dedicated to his master, Calvin Candie. However, Stephen is just plain evil. He goes out of his way to make a scene when Django first shows up on Candie’s plantation and continues to do whatever he can to interrupt Django on his mission to save his wife. Jackson can be really funny in this role from time to time. In fact most of the laughs coming from the crowd in the movie theater were during Jackson’s rants in the film. Much like DiCaprio’s Candie, Jackson’s Stephen can switch back and forth between gleeful and menacing without missing a beat.

However, it was the two heroes in the film that I found to be somewhat dull. While Foxx showed some range in emotion in the film, it wasn’t anything amazing. I remember when Will Smith was supposed to be a part of this film, personally I don’t know if it would have been better or worse with him. Foxx did a good job, but it wasn’t anything special.

Now as for the case of Christoph Waltz, I think he did rather well, but as the movie progressed it seemed like his character started to change in unsuspected ways. Near the end of the movie his character makes a weird decision that seems really out of place. I think Waltz did the best he could with the character, and he is rather charismatic as Schultz, but it’s nowhere near as good as his character in Inglorious Basterds.

The music in the movie gave me mixed feelings. While I enjoy the music from Ennio Morricone and different country music artists in the film, there were times when I was brought right out of the film when out of nowhere there was some hip-hop track being played onscreen. The only song that was somewhat modern that I agreed with had to be Richie Havens’ Freedom. Anyone who has ever seen Woodstock will know just how powerful this song is, and it’s played perfectly to a certain scene. 

The movie is somewhat long, and while this is what I expect from Tarintino movies, there were certain scene that could have been edited down a tad bit. That said, there weren’t a lot of them. This movie is justified in how long it is and it never drags to the point where you’ll start checking you phone to see what time it is. Since the dialogue is so good, I was never bored with what was going on.

Spike Lee has said that he will not watch Django Unchained because, “…It’s disrespectful to my ancestors, to see that film.” While I can understand where Lee is coming from in his statement, I feel that Tarintino is doing something similar to what Blaxploitation directors did during the 70s. They found that there was a market for heroes whose skin color wasn’t white and decided that that role could be made with or without Hollywood’s help. You could also state that even the heroes in the films eventually became stereotypes themselves, but at the end of the day they were trying to make an alternative hero for the masses, and make a couple bucks while doing it. I’m not black, so really I have no say in the matter. I just think Lee should give Django a chance and if he’s offended, stick with what he believes.

Django Unchained is a great movie and if you’re a Tarintino fan then there should be nothing stopping you from seeing the movie. Although it deals with some controversial subjects, one shouldn’t be afraid to give it a watch. There are quite a few “N” bombs in the film, and the violence is pretty graphic, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying what is actually a really good love story and probably the best Western to come out in years.

Unpopular Opinion: What About Violent Video games?

galaxynextdoor:

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Another shooting happens in America and right away news outlets sensationalize the massacre, hoping to get the highest ratings possible. It doesn’t help that the number one videogame in the country at the time was a game that allowed you to shoot random people from across the globe. Gamers knew what this would lead to of course, cries of violent video games training the killer and ,”How can we let our children be witness to the type of violence that is perpetrated in video games?”

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I wrote this editorial on violence in video games after what happened in Newton, Connecticut. Hope you enjoy it.