One Less Lonely Person

In the evening of April 16th, 2013, on a whim after having seen it on Amazon on a recommended list, I purchased the book “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate” by, Justin Lee. At roughly 5:40 a.m CST, as a thunderstorm raged and lit up my room with flashes of light, I finished the book whilst curled up in my blankets with my smartphone plugged into my charger as the Kindle app ran continuously. I couldn’t get enough of the book and the reasoning for this is pretty clear to me. Once again, in the middle of the night, God was letting me in on something; I am not alone.

I know, I know; simple right? You’d think so for most people, but as someone who is both gay and a Christian, this feeling is more prevalent than you would think.

Justin and I share much of the same story, though there are some deviations throughout. We both grew up in homes where both parents were incredibly loving. We both grew up in the South (in the good ol’ Bible Belt). We were both raised in Christian homes. The deviation comes when we take into account things like my being molested by multiple men in my life. Justin wasn’t (this is actually a discussion point in his book). Despite the differences, reading through his book was like reading a template of my life’s progression. As he chronologically ventured into each area of his life, I found myself becoming more and more captivated by what would occur, if only because I wanted to know how alike our stories were. I wanted to know if he encountered the same things I did. I again wanted to know that I wasn’t alone.

Justin eloquently delves through the journey of his life, pitting the traditions of the Church against the experiences of himself and others. He doesn’t do so in a way that is flippant of either side of the tracks. This isn’t a gay Christian lawyer versus the evangelical Christians of today. This is a man who has been making, and is still making, his journey through understanding how sexuality interacts with Christianity. There is no “Us-vs-Them” dichotomy in the book, merely an experiential outline and struggle. Justin’s views stated in the book aren’t easily come to. Though there are many gay Christians who decide that, based on experience, they can’t make themselves straight so being gay MUST be OK, (Justin addresses this view in the book) Justin isn’t one of those people. He fights with the scriptures and wrestles with them before forming and then elaborating on his positions in this debate.

I had known of Justin before reading his book, but only in a passing manner. Other gay friends of mine had mentioned him to me and had mentioned his network. I had read his stance on gay relationships through his page here and had agreed with much of it, but hadn’t gone much further than that. I was midway through the book before I looked him up on Google and was like, “Oh yeahhh. That guy.” What I had known of him before was good, but reading this book made me respect him.

As someone who loves a good debate, one of the things I can’t stand is when people hold beliefs that they can’t defend; or when they defend them in a flippant manner such as, “I just believe this.” I love hashing out ideologies and reasonings and listening to people’s apologetics. To me, it’s a sign that someone has come to their belief through good critical thinking and time. Justin is one of the people I would get along with in debates, for he is such a person. I can’t recommend this book to my friends enough. Especially with the way current events bear down on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, books like this shine a light in a really dark room.

Justin’s book takes a look at all sides of the debate whilst not painting anyone as a “villain.” There are people and stances he takes issue with, but never in a condescending or condemning way. Even if you don’t agree with the theology in the book, there’s no way you could read it and feel unloved. Justin is a shining example of Christ’s unconditional love for all, and that light shows itself throughout the pages. Pick up this book. Seriously.

Print

Amazon: Here

Barnes & Noble: Here

Official Site: http://www.tornbook.com/

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The Journey Through the FAYZ

I just finished reading “LIGHT” by, Michael Grant. It’s the conclusion of the GONE series. I find myself seemingly overwhelmed by the impact these six books have had on me. They’re absolutely incredibly, but will leave no person unchanged should they decide to pick them up and journey through the FAYZ with the characters they’ll grow to love, hate, and fear.

I started reading the GONE series 5 years ago. My first year in college I had picked up GONE and from there I was hooked. I awaited each book release with excitement and trepidation because I knew that whatever was going to take place on those pages was going to be an emotional roller coaster. There are moments that are beautiful, moments that are terrifying, and moments where you think the situation couldn’t POSSIBLY get any worse, but you’d be wrong.

There is something different about reading through this series as opposed to other series’ that have similar themes or scenarios. The Hungers Games may be brutal, but GONE is harrowing. It’s Lord of the Flies with super powers and a lot less hope. Don’t get me wrong, there is hope throughout, but the world presented here is so bleak for so long that you almost begin to lose hope as some the characters do.

The stories of the children in these books are so powerful though. Quinn, Sam, Lana, Edilio, Caine, Diana, Brianna, Orc, etc. They are all meaningfully laid out through each of the novels. These kids go from being young, innocent teenagers to powerful, thoughtful adults, even over the course of the year and a half or so that they’re in this situation. Some kids lead, some run away. Some kids kill, some protect. Factions are built. People choose sides. Lives are lost. The whole time you’re reading through this epic war-like scenario that thought keeps springing to the forefront of your mind, “These are kids. Good God, these are kids.”

There has been talk of the series being adapted for movies or television and I hope to God they find someone who understands the darkness of the series and why that darkness matters. I hope they find a channel like AMC that will let them get away with the brutality that this content needs to work. In 50 years, The Hunger Games won’t  be in a conversational about incredible movies because they sacrificed content for a PG-13 rating. The Hunger Games was decent, but sacrificed the brutality of the books for ticket sales. At the core of a series like The Hunger Games or GONE you have to remember that the power of these characters’ journeys stems from the incredible odds they have to overcome, and yes, sometimes that means killing other children to survive.

The violence, sex, drugs, etc in the GONE series is there as a reminder. A reminder that sometimes, sometimes the world can be an incredibly dark place. The people who get up in arms about the content of these books and the situations that these kids are placed in are missing the point. You’re supposed to be horrified, just as these children are, but you’re also supposed to understand something; for every bit of darkness, there is light. There is love. There is mercy. There is friendship. The children of Perdido Beach all make their journeys along that spectrum. Some end up embracing the darkness and the evil, but some embrace the hope; the light, and that’s all that matters.

One Powerful Republic

onerepublic-native-2013-2000x2000Sometimes an artist I enjoy will release an album and it will terrify me. I’ll be terrified because I think they’ve set a benchmark that will be hard for them to ever compete with, especially with their own records.

Coldplay did it with X&Y.

My Chemical Romance did it with Welcome to the Black Parade.

U2 did it with How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. 

OneRepublic just did it with Native.

Native is one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to and is definitely the best outing from OneRepublic. This is saying something, because I thought Waking Up was fantastic. They took a different turn from Dreaming Out Loud and went into a more poppy, radio sound. Native sounds like a mix between both of their earlier albums. There are songs that hit the road with the pop sound and will be played all over radio stations for months to come. “Counting Stars,” “If I Lose Myself,” “Feel Again,” “I Lived,” the list just keeps going on songs that work.

They also turn it around on some songs and go into some of the more deep motifs from Dreaming Out Loud. “Preacher” stands out as a track bursting from the seams with emotion. It seems to be more of a story set to music than a song meant for the radio. It’s almost as if the band is sitting us all down for a story in front of a fireplace. Ryan Tedder tells us the story of his grandfather and the lessons that he passed down. It’s a truly great track.

When I judge albums, I judge them on one factor more than others. I judge it on how much I want to press shuffle, or how much I want to listen to the album 8-track style. 8-Tracks, for those who don’t know, are un-skippable, un-rewindable, tapes. You have to listen to the whole album all the way through before listening to it again. Very few albums achieve something like this nowadays. With iTunes, Amazon, MP3 players, etc; it’s easy to skip through songs. Native keeps you in the moment though. You just fall into the album and let it wash over you like a cool wave. It’s just that good.

A solid 9.5/10 from me. It loses .5 for “Feel Again” being an almost direct rip off of “The Dog Days Are Over.” The song is still great, but it’s impossible not to notice the huge similarities.

 

Dead Space 3: More Method than Madness

CAUTION: SPOILERS FOR THE DEAD SPACE SERIES INCLUDED IN THIS REVIEW

ds5Dead Space 3 gets a ton of things right. This entry into the series, up until the after-credits scene, is a  fitting end to a long hard few days for Issac Clarke.

This game begins w/ Issac having broken up w/ Ellie from Dead Space 2 after seemingly becoming a recluse and desperately trying to figure out how to stop the coming end of humanity. Everyone thinks he’s just gone nuts from the stress/mind issues of the previous games. All of the sudden his apartment is broken into and he’s thrust on this adventure as Danik tries to kill him and bring the end of humanity by activating the final marker. Obviously, Issac can’t let that happen.

Dead Space 3’s story is the culmination of the series. The final resolution is on its way as Issac has to stop Danik and save humanity. Visceral has been fantastic on delivering tight, epic narrative for this series. This entry is no different. The story here is emotional, scary, and, at time, surprisingly heartfelt. There are moments in this game where you realize, “Damn. This is happening. This is rough.” These moments make the game that much more emotive and the player, at least for me, that much more empathetic.

ds4

Issac Clarke can’t catch a break. While the story in 3 is pretty incredible, I still don’t think it manages to hit the bar set by 2. There were moments in 2 that will forever be seared into my memory. There were moments that legitimately disturbed me and made me uncomfortable. This is a good thing. Not once did I feel that in 3. 3 is more of an action game w/ horror elements throughout. Some fans think this is a bad thing. I don’t. The game mixes both action and horror really well and still hits the right notes throughout. I was never bored, but I was never horrified either. Sure, there are new Necromorphs, but none of them are scarier than anything from the rest of the series.

Dead Space 3 wants the characters to shine in this entry and boy do they. The characters in this are brilliantly written. Even as people are dying off (it’s the last game in a trilogy, lots of people are going to die) they manage to make each on hurt in their own special way. People are left behind. People are killed to save others. Tough decisions have to be made, and are.

The gameplay is pretty much the same as the other entries, save for co-op (Which I haven’t experienced yet) and customization. You can make a crazy amount of awesome weapons in this game. The new Bench tool creation system makes mixing and matching weapon parts exhilarating. (I stuck w/ the Evangelizer Shotgun and Mjonir throughout the majority of the game. I like to keep beasties away from me, but when they do get close Mjolnir kills ’em quick.) There are also Scavenger bots that will pick up resources for you during the game. These come in incredibly handy during the later parts of the story. (DOWNLOAD THE PERSONALITY PACK FOR THESE GUYS! It’s seriously one of the funniest parts of the game and added a much needed does of humor in the midst of horror.)

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The flying missions continue to be a high point of the series for me. I love these levels. Flying, shooting, and dodging make these sections and adrenaline boost whilst remaining fun and light. In the usual missions, it’s dark and scary. These are bright and exciting. There are a good 4-5 of these throughout the 19 chapters of 3. ENJOY THEM.

The soundtrack/sound design here is brilliant as well. The game is scary. Skittering sounds of claws in walls, cries of agony from Necromorphs, depth perceptive sound coming from other rooms or down corridors; this game gets these things right.

Graphics are about the same as 2 with some nice additions. Issac’s visor now gives off light meaning, you’ll see 3 bars of green (or other shapes depending on the suit you’re wearing) shining on the walls as you walk around. I thought this was pretty cool. There are tons of suits you can unlock/buy, so finding out which ones do what is a pretty cool experience. It’s also a nice level of dimension for the gameplay.

ds9And now for what ruined the ending for me. Again, SPOILERS FOLLOW.

At the end of the game, everything seems to resolve for Issac. He and Ellie get back together long enough for him to apologize for everything and save her. He forces her to leave the planet so he can blow everything up w/ Carver and save humanity. She jumps in a ship and blasts off as he fights the last enemy and flips the switch to save the world. As everything is exploding the world slows down, Issac takes a deep breath, looks at his picture of Ellie, smiles, and closes his eyes. His mask was gone (was broken earlier and he ripped it off) and everything goes bright as the planet explodes and he floats into space. Ellie calls his name on the comms after seeing the planet explode. She calls for him and Carver. After no answer, she begins crying and mentions the marker signal is gone. “You did it Issac. You did it.” She says this between tears and turns the ship around before leaping into shock-space and leaving. ROLL CREDITS.

Now, after the credits the screen goes black and you hear Issac call out, “Ellie? ELLIE?!”

That’s it. After everything, Issac is somehow alive. At least, I think that’s what the writers want us to think. If that’s true and he is actually alive then that is terrible on a level like “The Dark Knight Rises.” Everything leading up to his death, INCLUDING his death, is pretty effective and blatant. Issac surviving is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t even be a possibility. The story is immensely better if he is dead. He gave up everything to save humanity, and that’s beautiful. If he doesn’t die, that ending is tarnished in my opinion. It doesn’t hurt as much.

If it’s some weird “afterlife voice” then I’m cool w/ that, but it doesn’t seem like it at the time. It’s the equivalent of Shepard breathing after the end of Mass Effect 3. It just doesn’t make sense, and hurts the story.

This is a huge misstep for an otherwise awesome game.

9/10 here for me. Awesome finale.

Have you played the game? Agree/Disagree w/ my review? Let me know in the comments!

Black Ops 2: Who Put RPG in my CoD Soup?!

Call_of_Duty_Black_Ops_2_1600x9001Black Ops II is the best Call of Duty game in ages, but it still misses the mark in some crucial areas.

There are the staples we’ve come to know and love from the Call of Duty series: fantastic multiplayer, decent story, and when Treyarch has the reigns, ZOMBIES. Black Ops II meets all the requirements whilst taking the series to a new high.

The story (I’ve only played through it once, so mine was probably different than yours) was a step up from the boring and lifeless Modern Warfare 3. Modern Warfare 3 had a fantastic beginning and ending, but the middle was terrible slop. Black Ops II is fantastic throughout, save for some levels that have gameplay issues. It was also co-written by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Batman Begins) so that helped A TON.

Some of the levels in Black Ops II require you to use vehicles. This would be a good thing (a la Battlefield 3) if the controls didn’t suck so terribly that the sections were almost unplayable. I also played my story on Veteran, meaning these controls were costing me valuable time and restarts. The F-18 mission towards the end is so ridiculously hard because of the controls and what the game wants you to do that I almost rage quit.

The other terrible thing is Strike Force. At least, it’s terrible on Veteran. In the story missions, even on Veteran, your AI is badass. They’re smart. They kill people. They make good decisions. In Strike Force? They’re basically children. I played the final Strike Force mission 4 times in 3 different ways and my people still died horribly. They would run up and completely pass people shooting at them for some reason. They wouldn’t shoot back. IT WAS TERRIBLE. This wouldn’t be so bad, except that the Strike Force mission affect your story.

Harper_and_Salazar_at_Colossus_BOIIThe brilliance of the Strike Force missions lay in that point. They affect your story. There are RPG elements in Black Ops II! You make decisions that matter. THIS IS BRILLIANT. This is what puts Black Ops II a step above the other titles in the series (except for CoD4, that was unfairly amazing). Throughout the game you’ll come to points where you have to make decisions for the characters. These are live/die shoot/don’t shoot decisions. They make your story different than mine and that’s incredible.

The acting/mo-cap/VO is fantastic w/ Raul Menendez’s actor (Kamar De Los Reyes) being the best of the bunch. Harper (pictured above) is voiced by Michael Rooker of Walking Dead and the original Black Ops’ Zombies campaign fame. His character was kind of hard to peg for me. I couldn’t escape the smarmy voice of Merle. That made it hard to connect with his character, but he was still great. Woods, Mason, everyone else? Phenomenal. The acting in this game was top notch.

Call of Duty still suffers from control fatigue though (invisible walls, limited view). If I’m involved in a cut scene, I should be able to look anywhere I want and walk anywhere I want. It’s a game, not a movie. If I wanted to watch a movie, I would, but I’m playing a game. LET ME PLAY THE GAME. Constantly in the story you’re stuck with a small box for viewing whatever is going on in the scene. This needs to change.

Menendez's_Rally_BOIIThe multiplayer is still amazing. It’s a Call of Duty game from Treyarch! What did you expect? I’ve not had the chance to delve too deeply into Tranzit mode or Zombies, but the regular multiplayer is better than ever.

They’ve revamped the loadout system so that you can pretty much do whatever you want. Want two super weapons with no perks? You can do that. Want one weapon with tons of perks? You can do that too. It’s awesome.

All in all this game had a great story, with major gameplay issues at times, but great multiplayer as well. This installment ends up being one of the best games of 2012. It gets a 8/10 from me.

Find me on twitter and Xbox Live under the name SamoX19! 

Killing Them Softly: The Hopeless Machine

Killing-Them-Softly-banner-premiereKilling Them Softly is a lesson in the mechanics of hope.

Throughout the film (which takes place in 2008) you hear speeches from George W. Bush and Barack Obama in varying moods. They talk about the economy. They talk about the nation. They talk about how united the country is and how everyone has an opportunity to succeed with the help of their countrymen. Brad Pitt’s character, Jackie, doesn’t believe this one bit. Neither do any of the other characters in the film. They are hardened and cynical and believe that the world is very dog-eat-dog. You gotta take what you want to get it. This mood is only juxtaposed by the speeches.

This is a movie about hope, and the places where it doesn’t exist.

Jackie, Mickey (James Gandolfini), and Markie (Ray Liotta) all know how this world works and don’t have time for any other bullshit that someone may spout to them. Jackie is called into the city to kill the people involved with knocking off a high-stakes backroom card game held by Markie. Thing is, Markie has robbed his own game before, so everyone is going to think it’s him again. These two kids, Frankie and Russell, knock it off and take the money and run, but Russell shoots his mouth off to the wrong person. This leads to the whole problem of who has to die.

Brad Pitt, as well as everyone else, play their parts brilliantly. There’s plenty of morbid comic-relief throughout the film. Everyone laughs out of the sheer absurdity of the situations and the conversations. The cinematography is also phenomenal. There’s a death scene in this movie that’s like watching poetry in motion. Super-slow, super-high detail, multiple angles; it’s wonderful.

Finally, this movie has one of the best abrupt endings I’ve seen, in recent memory. Abrupt endings are hard to do right, but they nail it here.

All in all this film gets a 4/5 for me. Some parts drag, but the majority of the movie is totally worth it. Go see it!

Wreck-It-Ralph Review

So I finally got the chance to see Wreck-It-Ralph yesterday in 3D. This movie was well worth the wait. It hit so many different notes right, and is one of my favorite animated movies of the year (my favorite being ParaNorman, but I’m biased because Halloween is my favorite holiday).

What’s the premise of this movie you ask?

“A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.”

That’s taken from IMDb and pretty much sets the story up completely in that one line. Ralph wrecks the apartment building in “Fix-It Felix Jr.” He’s grown tired of being the bad guy. He never gets invited to parties, never gets complimented, and most of all, never gets a medal. After an argument and loss of temper at the 30th anniversary party for the game he sets out on a journey to gain a medal and finally get the recognition he deserves. However, things do not go as planned.

There are TONS of nods to other games throughout this movie. I was actually shocked how many things that Disney was able to get the rights to. Sonic, Final Fantasy, Q-Bert, Street Fighter, etc… There’s even graffiti on the subway walls that says things like “Aerith Lives” and “Leroy Jenkins was here!” Looking for all the little details was incredibly fun. There are also the more on-the-nose nods like the main game that Ralph heads for to earn his medal, “Hero’s Duty” which is more HALO/Gears of War than Call of Duty, but it definitely spoofs the FPS genre really well.

The “Sugar Rush” game is like a mix between Mario Kart and Candy Land. This is where a majority of the movie takes place and is really quite beautiful in its own right. Lots of bright colors and pastels. There’s even a diet coke mountain with mentos for stalactites/stalagmites (foreshadowing much?).

All the acting is nifty. I mean, it’s what we’ve come to expect from Disney/Pixar movies. All the actors fit their parts perfectly and do amazing jobs. The score is done by Henry Jackman and really cues the same type of vibe as Scott Pilgrim did. There’s a lot of 8-Bit sampling throughout the score. Jackman blends the sounds really well though and makes them fit with the orchestral pieces. “Life in the Arcade” is probably my favorite of the bunch because it sounds like “Super Mario Bros. 3” and other assorted games from that era.

All-in-all this movie is a definite watch for gamers and the like. It’s appealing to children and adults and is the second best animated movie of the year. GO SEE IT. GO SEE IT NAO! 😀

4/5